If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

August Interviews

8/5 Lucy Burdette, The Key Lime Crime

8/12 Maggie Toussaint, All Done With It

8/19 Julie Mulhern, Killer Queen

8/26 Debra Goldstein, Three Treats Too Many

August Guest Bloggers

8/8 Leslie Wheeler

8/15 Jean Rabe

August Interviews

8/22 Kait Carson

8/29 WWK Authors--What We're Reading Now


Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why Write Short Stories?

In last week’s blog I analyzed the law of supply and demand and its effect on short story writers’ compensation (or lack thereof). But I write short stories; so there must be a reason other than the money. Actually, I have several reasons.

1. Some stories ideas are not sufficient for a novel.

I write to tell stories to people I have not met and will not meet. I tell stories that are interesting to me. Some of the ideas that interest me do not deserve a whole novel, or even a novella. If I want to tell those stories well, I must perforce write short stories.

2.Improve my craft.

The short story form puts a premium on painting pictures in a minimum number of words. With a short story every word must count. This should also be the case with a 100,000 word novel, and for some authors perhaps it is. For most authors the reality is that within the novel’s worth of words slack is inevitable. A few extra words of dialogue here, a bloated description there and an overwrought metaphor or two—these are not fatal in a novel. With a short story they can be killers. (But not what we mean when we say we are Writers Who Kill!)

Trying to write the perfect short story subjects every facet of the writing craft to the crucible formed by a word limit. An excellent short story only has room for critical dialogue, relentlessly moving the story along. Settings must be concise and meaningful, characterization accomplished with maximum effect using a minimum of description. Seamless weaving of setting, dialogue and characterization must occur to hold the reader’s attention.

I’m not suggesting that winnowing every story to 100 words is practical. To tell well, each story has its own inherent structure and required length. However, the challenge of expressing a story idea in flash fiction forces concentration on each and every word. In an article I wrote for Rough Draft published by the Cincinnati Writers Project I talked about why writing flash fiction is good for a novelist (as I fashion myself to be). I included a comparison of a 250-word story I had written for Alfred Hitchcock's mystery picture contest with a 100-word flash version of the same story.

I am convinced I improve my writing craft through the filter of writing short stories. The improvements show in each subsequent draft of my novels.

3. The ability to experiment.

Let’s say I have taken the typical rookie approach to writing a novel and used a first person POV. In thinking about my second novel I’d like to incorporate limited third person POVs. Or maybe I want to go wild and use a second person present tense voice in the next novel.

Instead of trying out those new (to me) methodologies while writing a 100,000 novel, I can experiment using these techniques in a short story. If I discover I can’t pull it off, all it has cost me is the time and effort of perfecting a 2,000-word story. Far better I should waste my time on 2,000 words than 100,000.

Similarly, if I find I can craft an interesting voice in my experimental format, then I can apply that learning to my novel. Through the short story revision process I will have already learned some important lessons about what works and what doesn’t. I will have confidence I can pull it off.

4. Explore interesting characters.

Sometimes in the course of thinking about or writing a novel I stumble across an interesting character. Occasionally they try to steal the novel, and I need to beat them back with the delete key. I can explore their character, their challenges, their story through a short story or two. Maybe the character is interesting and complex enough to eventually enjoy a novel of their own. Maybe the character raised a side issue that a short story or two will deal with adequately.

I once found I was writing an interesting bit of backstory in the midst of a first draft of a novel I was working on. In draft two I excised the backstory, but kept the idea in a folder of story ideas. The backstory eventually found its true voice as a short story.

5. Receive actual feedback.

Writing novels is a long process with very little feedback along the way. Sure, you can belong to critique groups who provide feedback in 5,000-word increments. You can trade completed manuscripts with critique partners to gain insight into what you have done well and what needs work. Most feedback you get on your novel is the rejection (or acceptance, if the work is good enough) from agents.

The first hurdle with agents is your query letter. Unless it is interesting enough, no agent will read your novel—even if it is a great novel. Maybe you developed a killer query letter and many agents ask you to submit 30 or 50 pages or even the entire manuscript. If it is rejected you will likely receive virtually no useful information. “Not for us,” the form rejection says.

Some short story editors provide feedback on stories they reject. I’m not talking a long critique, but I have had editors indicate things like the character didn’t draw them in; there was insufficient setting for their taste; the ending let them down.

These short comments provide valuable insight on the current status of my writing. The closer I come to acceptance, the more specific the notes on my rejections have become. And back to point (2), the actual feedback from editors helps me improve my writing—all of my writing.

Those are five reasons I write short stories. What about you?

~ Jim

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