As you all know now, I am participating in a YA dystopian short story collection entitled Brave New Love. The title of my piece is (currently) Into the Clearing. I might change my mind on that one. Anyway, if you haven’t yet, hop on over to the Brave New Love page and listen to the first song on the playlist, which I’ll be adding to as we get closer to the release date.
Since I’ve got short stories on the brain, I thought I might give you some wisdom that I picked up along the way as I wrote my first. Short stories are a great way to practice your writing without spending a gazillion years on a project. So here are a few handy tips on crafting a short story:
- Read other short stories. If you want to know how to do it right, you have to learn from those who have already mastered it. If you check out my January Reads post, you’ll see that I read some more contemporary short stories last month to see what was out there now, but I have some old school favorites that you should check out too. Like To Room Nineteen by Doris Lessing, A&P by John Updike, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, and The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant. This is easy research too! They’re such fast reads.
- Find the true beginning of your story. I ended up starting Into the Clearing several times only to cut off the first page or two because I realized that crap didn’t matter. Anything that did, I wove into the story later. And things like that are nice, breaking up what’s happening with something the character already knows. It’s a good rule for whatever you write: Skip the crap!
- Keep your character’s motivations close to the surface. It takes me multiple drafts to figure out why my characters are doing what they’re doing. And then I have to figure out how to make it as clear to everyone else as it is to me. This time around, I tried to be faster at finding them and putting them in places where you could see them clearly. I want you to care about what they care about! And we don’t have time to waste!
- Make your words do double duty. The Selection currently stands at about 80,000 words. The Siren is over 100,000. I like words! So when I was told to get a story across in under 13,000, I panicked. Chopping off my unnecessary openings helped, and so did making my words say two things in one go. Saying a building is the twin of another or that a person’s appearance is the opposite of someone else’s describes two things at once and makes room for the good stuff. Like kissing. Always save room for kissing.
- Keep the time span short. Trying to cover years or months in short stories isn’t the best idea (though I can think of a few exceptions). Try to keep things to happening within a few days (or even one if possible). I will admit now that I’m breaking this rule. Sort of.
- Listen to your characters. Just like any story, it might go in a direction you weren’t planning. Go with it. If the scene with the moose chase doesn’t work out, you can always undo it.
- Endings are negotiable. Sometimes, like novel-length stories, they can come to a happy, well-rounded conclusion. Sometimes, not so much. With short stories, there’s room to leave your readers wondering what happens next or, if you’re brave, to end it with a twist. The Necklace is one of my faves, and the very last line of that one was a punch in the stomach the first time I read it. So there.
- Edit, edit, edit. The great thing about editing short stories is that you can read it in a few hours as opposed to a few days. And that’s good because you can get rid of your bad ideas faster. I have to tell you, maybe the first five drafts of Into the Clearing were stank nasty ugly. Now, I’m happy with it, and it will only be polished more along the way. Take the time to make your writing shine. Just because it’s brief doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve some lovin.
And there you have it! I hope this makes your short stories super lovely. And stay tuned for more info on Brave New Love!