Archive for July 30th, 2009

Thursday, July 30th, 2009 by Sasha White
Writing Short

Some authors hate writing short stories. They find it hard to fit a full story in so few pages. Maybe it’s because when I started writing I really had no clue what I was doing, but I thought writing short was easier. So I started out with short stories. The first few ‘stories’ I wrote were around the 1, 000 word mark. Then I bumped up to 3,000, then 5, 000. Then I wrote GYPSY HEART, my first attempt at a novel. I aimed for 75,000, but it ended up being just over 50. :) I wrote another 20k novella before I wrote my first single title, BOUND.

Sometimes I still find writing short stories easier. Sometimes I find them harder. I’ve learned that it all depends on the story. The most important thing for an author to remember when trying to write short isn’t to keep the word count low…it’s that short stories and novellas are exactly that “Stories”.

Readers love a good story, no matter how long or short, it’s always the story that counts. It’s up to you, as the author, to decide what that story is, and to stick to it when you put pen to paper. (Or fingers to keyboard.)

When writing short you need to keep things simple in your mind. Don’t over think plot, or setting, or so many of the things we obsess over when writing a full length novel. Think the basics of storytelling. All stories need well developed characters, conflict, and resolution.

Here’s some of my thoughts on how to write short.

On Character Development:

Well developed characters can be done in a very quick and short way. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking just because you don’t have room to include a whole back story that you won’t be able to draw a clear and complete picture of your character for your readers.

The backstory for the character should still be done, you’ll need it in your head, even if not on the page. Knowing your characters makes them easier to draw. And you draw them for readers with simple and straight strokes.


Amanda Carrington set down the phone and listened to Emily – her secretary – giggling girlishly in the open-plan area of the office. It was the final straw. The girls irritating simpering was grating in her ear so much that she could barely concentrate. Leaving her cushioned chair, Amanda walked around the large oak desk and stalked to the door of her office. Enough was enough; this was an office, not a pick up joint.

In 75 words this gives the reader a picture of who Amanda Carrington is. The name, the fact that she has a secretary, her reaction to the secretary’s giggles, the oak desk , and finally her ‘pick-up joint’ line. These are all things that are carefully selected to give you an instant image of the character.

Is it a complete image? Not yet. But as the story moves on, we learn a little more through her thoughts and actions. What’s important is that you see it’s possible to do it in a short space, and not to let yourself be intimidated. Don’t let yourself feel any pressure to cram too much in low word counts. Instead, when you go over your first draft (you’ll see about that in a minute) you be selective in what you keep, or include.

When writing short you don’t have the space to tell backstories and explain why the character is the way they are, and readers won’t even notice that you didn’t give them the backstory if you do your job right. Why? Because the characters current thoughts and actions will tell the reader what kind of person they are at the time of the story, and that’s what matters when writing short.

On Conflict

When writing short, it’s my opinion that you need to keep things simple. By that I mean, only one big conflict, plot, or dilemma per story. No sub plots or secondary characters inching forward and maybe trying to steal the spotlight. Figure out what story you want to tell – and tell it.

Now why do I say plot or dilemma? Because the way I think of things is that short stories (10k and under) are about a situation or dilemma, but novellas can have a plot.

My rule is that short stories should never have a secondary story.
Novellas can have a continuing thread, if you are planning a series, or writing a novella to be a between the books treat for readers. Shiloh Walker does this very well. Her Hunter single titles are much more complex, yet she also write novellas as part of the same series/line. They stand alone, but they are also part of a series simply by the association. Make sense?

Another great example is Janet Evanovich. Her Stephanie Plum series is a huge hit, but she only puts out one book a year. But recently she released Visions Of Sugar Plums, Plum Lovin, and PLum Lucky as ‘between the numbers’ books. Those two novellas have very simple storylines with no subplots.

In my mind I think of things like this.

Short stories are like a half hour sitcom. A situation.

Novellas are like the one-hour drama. Not the soap opera or Desperate housewives type that are serials, but more like Law and Order or The Closer or even Angel, Buffy and Firefly. Each show deals with ONE PLOT. These shows also have threads that continue all season, and underlay each episode, but that’s because they are continuing. Make sense?

Novels are like a feature film. The good ones have it all. Action, drama, emotion and resolution.

On Resolution

I write the story not paying attention to word count at all. Just write it, if you need to have the characters back-story in it, and then write it in. If you need to describe them making their coffee and showering and doing every little thing, then do it. Myself, I tend to write short and sweet. Ok maybe not sweet , but you get what I mean. I tend to set the scene, complete with dialogue, and then move on. Yes, I’m always under my word counts.

The point is, write however is natural to you because voice and style are of major importance when it comes to writing short. Your voice and style is what will hook the reader and keep them reading. (But that’s a whole ‘nother subject)

Anyway, Just write it. Then decide what scenes need to be cut to hit your word count. (Or fleshed out) Go over the story and either add description, and action by layering in the treats. Or cutting back-story and trimming the excess and unnecessary.

When writing short always try to remember The story is the cake. The rest is just icing…and as much as we all love icing, too much of it can ruin a good cake.

So…have you ever written a short story? Do you want to?

* * * * *

The BIAM Challenge is over.

First off, Congratulations to Dawn for writing 8900 words for the month of July.  You might not think you did a lot, but you did more than me. 😉

Darlene  is queen butt kicker for this challenge with a total of 56, 719

And uhmm yeah. I so did not good. me…I’m just under 8k, the funny thing, I’m not upset about it. LOL I really enjoyed the month of just thinking about things and jotting down bits and pieces that I know will eventually become a novel. With no deadline, I’m in no hurry, and I’m finding it a very different process for myself.  And I think the end product will rock! 😀

That said, Darlene, as top Butt Kicker of this BIAM Callenge, you win a treat from me. What is it? It’s the book of your choice.  Yep, just choose any book you want (for $25 or less) and email me the title and your snail mail address, and I’ll get that book to you.