Friday, October 5, 2012

Ready for Your Close Up?

What does this photo have to do with writing short stories? It's my metaphor. Bear with me. It's clear that this is an eye, right? You can't see the critter the eye is attached to, but chances are pretty good, even if my focus is pretty bad, that you can tell what kind of critter this is. You don't need to see the whole animal in the picture to see the whole feline in your mind. (Hatshepsut was inside a box peeking out at me through a hole...the murderous intent you may detect is for the feather toy we'd been playing with.)
Short stories are supposed to be like that. They're a snapshot of one single occurrance, one antagonist, one protagonist, one set of stakes. Assuming you're trying to come in at 10k words or fewer, you just don't have the room for anything else. Jeffe's Keep It Simple, Stupid advice gets repeated often - as in mantra often - when I'm attempting to write short.
What can I say? I *like* complication and twists and turns. Therefore, novels. However, shorter work forces me to focus in on what makes a story. It's a worth while exercise distilling a character and an event down to the bare essentials. I keep a mental outline for short stories and novellas. It goes something like this:
1. Present Protagonist - bonus point if you can present protagonist and conflict, or protagonist and setting all at once. Bonus bonus points if all three happen in those first few lines.
2. Present Conflict: AKA - Get Protagonist in trouble this should give us the protag's emotional investment in the situation
3. Present Antagonist if not already done in number 2 above.
4. Supporting incident raising stakes on conflict - may twist emotional investment
5. OPTIONAL: Offer of help or advice or mentoring - KEEP IT SHORT backstory can go here if needed - but really? Put it in dialog or action and make it raise the stakes further.
6. Get to the face off - this is the arena scene - protag facing down antag (In most short stories, this is where character change occurs and this is usually the longest scene in the story)
7. Resolve in as few words as possible. No dangling threads for the single story question!
Mix, match, wash and wear as you like. Or ignore. :D A few months ago, I'd have said I didn't do shorts, but after a novella, one 15k story coming out in January in the Mammoth Book of Futuristic Romance and a 10k story out on submission - maybe I'm learning. Now. I'd like to take the same clean, streamlined story telling back to novels.
Anyone have pointers on that??


  1. Sooner or later, they ALL come over to the dark side - bwah ha ha ha ha!