How to Write a Short Story

Today’s post comes from Elaine Faber, a member of Northern California Publishers/Authors, Sisters in Crime, and the Car writers Association.  Included in her published books is one book of short stories.  There are also three full-length books centered around a cat, and two books set back during World War II.  Here’s her advice on writing a short story that people will read.

The ideal short story contains the following elements: A compelling title, interesting characters, an unusual setting, an intriguing goal or situation, and a good conclusion, perhaps with a twist.

Suppose there were two short stories in a magazine. Both stories are about women who have an unexpected event occur in their lives. Which of the two titles below would get the most readers?

The Mall Purse (A housewife finds a purse at the mall)

The Abandoned Baby on the Doorstep (Fortune Teller finds baby at the fair)

Although the housewife may have a fascinating tale of how she reunites the purse with the owner, unless we added the words, “bloodstained purse” to the title, it is likely that the most read would be the one about the character with a diverse job, setting and situation. The reader would want to know–what exactly does the fortune teller do with a baby left on her doorstep? If she’s a real fortune teller, shouldn’t she have known the baby would be there? And, for that matter, wouldn’t she know who left it on her doorstep in the first place. Just sayin’…

Once an unusual character, setting and goal are chosen, an author begins the body of the story. He must identify the main character, the problem he faces, a conflict or two along the way that threatens his solving the problem, and the solution, all within the limit of 1000 to 2500 words. There is no room for backstory, character development, personalities, subplots, red herrings, and minor conflicts along the way, misdirection of the culprit, conflicted romance, or intrigue. All those story details can only be explored in a novel.

From time to time, it is helpful for authors of full-length novels to enter contests and submission requests for stories of limited word counts. Without the luxury of 80,000+ words to ‘make it work,’ the author must make the short story compelling, outline the problem and bring about a convincing solution in short order. The process of writing a limited word story sharpens and challenges an author to make each word count, yet tell a story with a fun plot and a satisfying conclusion, in a very limited space.

My book of short stories, All Things Cat, includes 21 short stories, all related in some way to a cat. I’ve incorporated both past and present times, unusual locations, situations and circumstances. Some stories are self-narrated BY the cat. Some are stories from my personal experiences, but most are fiction based on ideas taken from holidays, story prompts, contest submissions, and even a couple excerpted scenes from my own novels. I’ve introduced witches, poker players, burglars, and members of the First Family, to name but a few. I’ve tried to incorporate all the aspects of a good short story into each tale.

When an author of full-length novels publishes a short story, we demonstration our storytelling abilities, style, and writing skills. Like tasting samples at the grocery store, in hopes the customer will buy the product, with a short story, the author hopes to encourage the reader to travel on another journey with the characters we create in our full-length novels. My main goal is to share my make-believe world, and bring a bit of fun and laughter into the reader’s life. Hope you’ll travel this journey with me in All Things Cat or any of my other novels.

All Things Cat is available on Amazon for $2.99. http://tinyurl.com/y7xs4wr5. What a fun book for the cat lover or as a gift for the cat lover in your life.

http://tinyurl.com/lrvevgm    Black Cat’s Legacy

http://tinyurl.com/lg7yvgq     Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer

http://tinyurl.com/07zcsm2    Black Cat and the Accidental Angel

http://tinyrul.com/hdbvzsv      Mrs. Odboddy – Hometown Patriot

http://tinyurl.com/jn5bzwb     Mrs. Odboddy– Undercover Courier

Please leave a comment.  Thanks.

 

I’ve Got an Idea – Now What?

Today’s guest blogger is John Lindermuth, author of sixteen novels, including eight in the Sticks Hetrick series.  John is a retired newspaper editor who now serves as librarian for the county historical society, assisting patrons with genealogy and research. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and past vice-president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.  Here’s his take on writing a book.

One of the most common questions a writer hears is, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s an easy one to answer–ideas are all around us.

You discover them in your reading, in what you hear (writers are notorious eavesdroppers), in what you see, and so many other places. But an idea isn’t a story. An idea is simply the germ of a story. It’s what starts you asking, “what if…”

The next step in the process is creating character(s), a plot and a story location. There’s been much debate over which is more important–character or plot. In my opinion, they’re of equal importance. You can’t have one without the other.

Speaking of the former, you want your main characters to have substance and not be paper cutouts. Readers relate to a realistically portrayed character.

So, how do you imbue them with “life?” You give them a personality. You build them from the ground up, with a past and present life, distinguishing characteristics–personality, in other words. But, by no means, do you just dump a block of description and narrative and say this is Joe Smith. You introduce the character bit by bit as you build your story, introducing your character gradually to the reader in the same manner as we learn about people we meet in real life. You don’t learn the entire life history of a person you’ve met in one encounter. Why should it be any different in fiction?

Now, as to plot, this is how it all plays out together. You introduce the crime or crimes, the detective, the investigation, discovery of motive and, eventually, the identity of the culprit. Most thrillers identity the criminal at the outset. In a mystery, I feel that takes the fun out of the story. Most mystery readers like to try and determine the criminal before it’s disclosed by the writer. Traditionally, mysteries started as this type of puzzle, providing clues throughout the narrative to lead the reader to the conclusion. Being the sneaky people we are, writers like to throw in red herrings (misleading clues) to throw readers off the track and add subplots to add more sauce to the story.

This is how an idea becomes a story.

And here is John’s latest Sticks Hetrick novel, In Silence Sealed.

Lydia, daughter of Swatara Creek Police Chief Aaron Brubaker, is accused of murdering her boyfriend Jason Russell, handsome but feckless stepson of  Clay Stoneroad, a famous writer who recently moved to a farm outside town.

Daniel ‘Sticks’ Hetrick, now a county detective, is determined to prove Lydia’s innocence. His job is made more difficult when the weapon her father insisted she carry is found missing.

Mysteries surround the Stoneroad family. Vickie Walker, a strange young woman also recently arrived in town, insists Nan Calder, the writer’s secretary, is her sister, a claim Calder denies. Then Diana Wozniak, reporter for a sleazy tabloid, is the victim of a hit-and-run accident and police learn she attempted to blackmail the writer.

The sudden disappearance of Lydia and Vickie puts Hetrick and his friends in a desperate race against time to find them, unravel secrets and apprehend the real killer.

John’s website is at http://www.jrlindermuth.net

And leave a comment.  Where do your ideas come from?  Do you start with character or plot?  We’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Real Life Spawns a Book

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Author Frankie Capers has four children, ten grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren.  It’s probably the great grandchildren that provide her with many of her stories. Frankie, besides poetry, writes children’s Story-Coloring books. The child can color the story as the story … Continue reading

What Role does Location Play?

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Today’s post is from Leeann Betts. She writes contemporary suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. She has released six titles in her cozy mystery series, By the Numbers, with Petty Cash releasing in December. Here, she talks … Continue reading

What’s The Big Idea?

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Today’s guest blogger is M. L Hamilton.  She taught English and journalism for over twenty years.  Now she writes mysteries and cozy mysteries   She also enjoys reading, knitting, amateur photography, and spending time with her family.  She and her husband … Continue reading

Bloom Where You Are Planted

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Our guest today is Lynn Hobbs. She is an award-winning authorof inspirational Christian fiction and biographies.  Each book in her first series, Running Forward, a powerful faith and family saga, won first place for Religious fiction in the Texas Association … Continue reading

An “Aha” Moment

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Today, Gay Ingram gives us an interesting post on those little moments of joy that pop up ever so often for a writer.  Gay is a multi-published award-winning writer.  She writes both fiction and non-fiction for both adults and young adults.  … Continue reading