Nearly twenty years ago a friend of mine read some of my fiction work and said, “You should write short stories.” He thought they might be easier to get published. Going another step beyond that, he thought we should sell them ourselves on the internet. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time, but we set up a subscription service and actually offered a story a month.
Who knew we would get subscribers, and suddenly I made a major discovery. People would buy them, but while he came up with plenty of ideas, he wasn’t going to write them. I was left with the opportunity and the task of having to produce at least one short story a month for a whole year. Each story was expected to be 20,000 words so they ended up being more novellas than short stories. What I discovered from that experience was how much I enjoyed writing short. The stories were quick and the plots had to be simple. The characters had to be developed in just a few words through their actions. I only did that for a year but I came away from that experience with a whole new appreciation for writing short.
The secrets of writing short stories…
These days I am not writing short stories on a deadline (as I was then) but I still find new enjoyment every time I sit down to write a short story. How do I get started? Often it begins with a theme – I want to make a point so I develop my characters and the situation around that theme. I did that for a short story I wrote for an anthology last year. The focal point was to be a love letter, and my theme was “young love can live forever.” Using a simple theme you can often fashion a wonderful short story.
Another way I come up with ideas is to focus on the character. Several years ago I joined with friends who wanted to do an anthology on older characters finding romance. In this case I had to make my lead character the focus, so I developed my short story around a woman at a high school reunion who reconnects with an old boyfriend. Both of them are carrying secrets from their past and they must get past those secrets before they can find happiness together.
Yet another good way to begin developing a short story is through the setting. When I developed my novella, Shadows from the Past, it was with the idea of a spooky old gothic house where nothing was as it seemed. I enjoyed writing that story so much, I find myself now returning to that house – Redfern Manor – for another spooky tale. Redfern Manor is a great old house built back in the 1800’s and it emits plenty of squeaks and noises and it may even harbor a ghost or two.
It’s the beginning and the ending that count.
In my new novella, it will be the beginning and the ending that count. That’s another way to develop your short story—through either the beginning or ending, or both. Each of those elements on its own can go a long way toward building a wonderful short story. The beginning can grab the reader’s interest right from the beginning while a memorable ending can leave the reader thinking or wanting to read another of your stories or books.
Five pieces of the story puzzle.
If you are thinking of writing a short story and aren’t quite sure where to start, consider those five pieces I just went through. All of them can be useful in different ways:
Experiment until you find your method.
Try experimenting with any of them, or a combination, as a way to begin. You should be able to come up with a simple plot, which is the backbone of your story. It can be one scene, two scenes or more, but these ideas can help you get on your way to constructing a short story.
There are other things you need to consider as you write your short story, of course. Dialogue, description, back story, even your editing all can be different when you sit down to write a short story.
Next month I will be teaching a workshop at SavvyAuthors on how to write short stories. This is one of my favorite classes to teach. It is most rewarding for me to work with the students in this class because we can actually come up with ideas, characters and perhaps a short story by the end. Short stories are more popular than ever because readers are looking for them more frequently than in the past. They may not have the time to read a full book, but they like the idea of a short read.
For the writer, short stories can also be a great way to get that feeling of accomplishment in a shorter time period. Writing teachers often tell me they advise their students to write short because it sharpens their overall skills. I hope you’ll consider joining me and let’s try writing short. You might end up with your own short story by the end!
Becky Martinez is an award-winning former broadcast journalist who writes romance, mystery and romantic suspense. Her latest work, a short story, “One More Romance” was published in the anthology, Sealed with Love. Her last mystery novel, Blues at 11, was published by The Wild Rose Press. She is currently writing the next entry in that mystery series featuring a crime-solving TV anchorwoman, as well as a second story set at Redfern Manor, the scene of her novella, Shadows from the Past.
She also teaches writing classes and has co-authored two books on writing with Sue Viders, Let’s Write a Story – Seven Ways to Plot, and Creating Memorable Characters. Both are currently available on Amazon.com
[box] Shadows from the Past
When Stacey Moreno goes undercover on Evergreen Island, she’s looking for answers to a friend’s mysterious death, not trouble. After all, Stacey’s not adventuresome–she lives vicariously through her cartoon creations and can’t tell left from right. But from the moment she moves into spooky Redfern Manor and meets her sexy new boss, trouble starts and sparks fly. Hobbled by injuries from a plane crash, former journalist Mack Warren came to Redfern Manor looking for escape, not romance. He intends to focus on the biography he’s writing of the manor’s former occupant and ignore the strange feelings his lively new assistant inspires. As Stacey digs for answers, she’s drawn to her mysterious boss, but he is obsessed with a ghost. With danger drawing near, can Stacey persuade Mack to face the shadows from the past that threaten to destroy their future?