Starting with this introduction, Writers Who Kill will be presenting a series of holiday short fiction by our regular bloggers. The pictures are of two of my favorite short story authors, Poe and Hawthorn.
All of us are experienced at writing short. That experience varies but that should only add to your pleasure with our work. I will let the others tell you about their experience when they present their story if they wish to do so. A good story holds up regardless of the author’s biography. So don’t think about who we are, only about what we write.
To prepare you for the series, here are some suggestions to help you read a short story. As with all writing, these are not rules but guideposts.
When most people think of a short story they think of length. How many words? True I carefully track of how many words there are in all my works¸ but there is way more to what makes up a short story than the number of words it contains. Short stories are to be read and enjoyed, not classified. So don’t worry about how long it is.
Short stories are found in as many genres and cross-genres as any fiction. You might be treated to humor, history, romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction and more. Or any combination. I’m sure that in the selection we will present, you will find several stories that appeal to you.
A short story has to be compact without feeling heavy. Each word has to contain the most meaning possible, but the result should not read like a tightly packed brick. A short story writer benefits from a good vocabulary. Stories can be tightened by changing “she ran down the street as fast as she could” to “she fled down the street” or simply “she fled.”
Every word has to move the plot ahead, so don’t expect full explanations. If the color of the suspect’s dress moves the story forward you will be told it is red, because later a red dress appears in the crowd and catches the eye of the protagonist. If not forget it. But don’t take the mention of something in the story to be the presentation of a clue. There are other ways to move the story ahead besides a parade of clues. Maybe that red dress is a distraction so the detective misses the real clue. I do have to admit to telling that the protagonist in my most recent work bought parsnips at the market when it made not the slightest difference to the story, while her purchase of eggs did. As I say these are suggestions not rules.
You will not be told what happens before or after the story, so be prepared to fill in with your own imagination. The most frequent question I get is something like “Did they get married?” Not in this story they didn’t. Maybe in the next one. The writer may not tell you what kind of poison was used, or the make of gun the killer used, unless you need to know.
A short story has to have a single plot, no subplots. Don’t expect complex relationships among the characters. This may come out in bits and pieces if it is part of a series. Setting is sparse, but if the writer is good, vivid.
In the single arc of a short story the tension increases to near the end and resolves itself quickly. The denouement, if there is one, is short.
As I said, short stories are most often defined by their length. There are weird names, like Flash and Drabble assigned to each category. The lengths and the names change often enough so that I am not going to list them. The story is to be enjoyed. Knowing that it is a short-short or something else will neither add to nor detract from that enjoyment.
So, savor our Holiday Offerings.