Get Shorty

So, in case you haven’t seen me mention it on Twitter, I’m tickled pink to be involved in The Consortium‘s upcoming short story magazine publication.

In fact, I’ve been so tickled pink about it, I dug out the former prologue to one of my high fantasy novels, intending to use said former prologue as my short story submission. After a fair bit of clean-up, you understand.


After some pondering and some hob-nobbing with fellow writerly types, I’ve come to the conclusion that said former prologue does not best serve my needs at this time.

I.e., as a “short story,” said former prologue sucks.

Dash it all.

So. There was only one solution.

Like Aaron recommended in his blog just last week, I cut the prologue. Again.

Instead of using the former-prologue-now-turned-former-short-story, I’m now writing a real, honest-to-goodness, gen-yoo-wine short story. For the first time ever.

Yeah, I’ve written “short stories” before — but they were more like interesting scenes instead of narratives with definite, short-story-like structure. In my previously penned short fiction, I have never practiced what I’ve preached, namely the principle of Learn The Rules First And Only Then Break Them.

In my short fiction, I’ve never bothered with the rules until now.

So, what rules am I following?

Well, first off, I’m obeying KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. I’m sticking to one genre — high fantasy — instead of writing the kind of horror-fantasy-scifi-thriller-literary-fiction mish-mash for which I have a penchant.

Blast those penchants. They get me every time.

Where was I? Oh. KISS. Right. *mwah*

I’m also leaning heavily on the following structure, gleaned mostly from stuff Aaron recommends and stuff one of his master’s degree profs recommends:

  • Scene (1,500 – 2,000 words): protagonist in direct conflict with antagonist; protagonist sort of gets what s/he wants, but there’s a loose end or two
  • Sequel (500 – 1,000 words): protagonist reflects on emotional impact of what’s happened; this is also a good place for limited info dump; protagonist communicates the stakes to the reader
  • Climax (2,500 words): runs the gamut of protagonist’s Choice, Decision, Action, Dark Moment (in which all seems lost), Reversal (in which most [but not all] is regained), and Reward.

I started the story on Sunday, and I finished it this afternoon. The first draft clocks in at right around 4,300 words. It’s about 1,500 words shorter than I thought it would be when I started — but my hero kind of moved faster than I’d anticipated. Ah well. We’ll see if the next draft brings along more wordage.

This is a very new sort of writing adventure for me — one of which I’ve always been leery. I’ve never delved deep into short fiction because most of the time, my short stories go from cute little hatchlings to massive, epic, flyings beasts in the space of about two days. At least in my head.

So, come to think of it, I don’t need this new story to have a wordage growth spurt. It’s pretty fine and dandy at 4,300 words, thank ye kindly.

Part of this new adventure will be to write *more* short stories over the course of the next month or so. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

*sigh* What have I gotten myself into?


What about you, dear inklings? Got a short story fetish? Got some short story fears? Let’s hear ’em! I’d love to know I’m not the only one with this weird hang-up. ; )

12 thoughts on “Get Shorty

  1. Pamela Davis says:

    I have always held the fear that I can’t write short stories. I end up feeling that I can’t say what I want in a short format. Everything I write seems to grow big very fast. I think it takes some courage to write short. Good for you for stretching yourself in this way.

  2. Ginger says:

    I don’t like to read short stories and yet I am beginning to think that I like writing them.

  3. Joshua Unruh says:

    For so many reasons, I sympathize with this post. Never done it, wasn’t sure I could do it, did it pretty decently, now want to do it some more.

    Now that ever-present question of “How?”. Can’t wait to get all the writers together after the deadline!

  4. Pam, I hear ya on all counts. I’ve always found the concept of short stories terribly intimidating. Now, I find myself blinking in confusion at having written one via the structure I mentioned — and discovering that it actually works.

    So, long story short (ha ha), it’s easier to have courage when one buckles down and learns the hows. You’d think I’d’ve learned that lesson long before now. ; )

  5. Ginger, I’ve always been quite particular about the short stories I read. They’ve always felt like too much of a tease: getting me into their world (if they’re good!) and then leaving me hanging just when I’ve made an emotional commitment.

    That said, I’m finding that I have few qualms about doing the same thing to my own readers. It really is about making them hungry for more and more and more. So let’s get crackin’! : )

  6. Josh, you summed it up nicely. Mayhap Aaron has mentioned this to you already, but I’ve now got a plan for ten (10) short stories. A month ago, the prospect would’ve terrified me — but now that I’ve got a nice “crutch” in the form of an actual how-to, I’m kinda looking forward to it.

    *sigh* Dunno how I get myself into these things. Oh. Wait. Aaron was involved. Never mind. ; )

  7. Heather Sutherlin says:

    I am still terribly confused about the purpose of a short story. Why on earth would we want our stories to be short (unless, of course, they are children’s bedtime stories and then they cannot seem to be short enough for my tastes!).

  8. Heather, I’m sorry for my late reply. I’ve been sick. You ask an excellent question — and I relate to it quite well! I’ve always enjoyed long fiction far more than short. If I’m going to make an emotional commitment to a piece of fiction, I want a full return on my investment! It always seemed like short fiction couldn’t compensate me enough.

    But since I’ve started writing my own short stories and reading others’ and reading what others have to say about short fiction, I’ve discovered that some readers feel the exact opposite about short stories. They want the short fiction, because it lets them know if they’re going to like a particular author or not. They can commit a short amount of time to a short piece. If they like it, they’ll invest more time in a longer work. But if they don’t like it, they haven’t lost a lot of time, and they can move on to something else.

    Another purpose for writing short stories is honing our craft. I’ve only recently started realizing this. In a short story, I’ve got a very limited amount of word-space in which to establish character, develop character, develop plot, and transition from scene to sequel to climax to denouement. Since I can’t take my good ol’ easy time about it, I’m more focused on choosing the right words and on cutting unnecessary material.

    It’s kind of like blogging vs. Twittering. On my blog, I can expound at length. On Twitter, I’ve got 140 characters with which to say something meaningful. Each tweet is lean and to the point. The same, I find, applies to short stories: They’re lean and to the point, because they can’t afford not to be.

    So, as I learn to fine-tune my short stories, I’m also fine-tuning my skills as a novelist.

  9. […] much as I am in it rejoicing. Today, my lovelies, we’re back to short stories. My recent post Get Shorty elicited the following comment from reader Heather: I am still terribly confused about the purpose […]

  10. You know, most all of the things I have written in the past were short stories. I couldn’t seem to break the 5000 word limit and they still were complete stories. Now, I am working on stretching ideas into novels but short stories are fantastic.

  11. Justin, thanks for dropping in! It’s always so interesting to me to hear from other writers who approach this topic from the opposite direction. My difficulty has always been keeping stories short, while you work to expand them. I wonder if there’s a writer out there who can do either without trouble?

  12. […] final edits for the first issue of “A Consortium of Worlds,” our short story e-magazine, are due next Wednesday, […]

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