I'm currently working on edits for my holiday short story collection SMALL TOWN CHRISTMAS TALES, to be released this fall. I was inspired by the annual holiday short stories some of the authors of The Roses of Prose have written for the blog the past three years. I'd never written a short story before we began our tradition, and it's been so much fun I wanted to expand on it by writing my own collection of ten stories.
Ten short stories--less than 50K words. Easy peasy for a writer used to producing full-length novels, right? Let me tell you, I'm exhausted. The creative well was down to the last dregs by the final story. My critique partners can vouch for that.
- Each short story is just that--a complete story. It needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Because our ROP Christmas stories span multiple days, I learned to structure my stories in three parts, one for each of three days. Those became the beginning, middle, and end. For this collection, I had to come up with ten separate and complete plots.
- Because I'm a plotter, I needed to work out and write down what was going to happen in each of the three acts before I began. After the first couple of stories, I tried winging it and it was a disaster. It might seem like a waste of precious time to write a synopsis for a short story, but I learned that without one I froze up or muddled around, wasting even more time.
- Characters are just as important in a short story--maybe even more so because there isn't enough room for an elaborate plot. Since the characters carry the story, I began each new story by writing character descriptions. They didn't have to be as detailed as the ones I write before I begin a novel, but I had to have them. That meant ten heroes and heroines, along with assorted secondary characters, who needed names, personalities, hopes, and problems.
- Each story in this collection is set in a fictional small town in a different state from coast to coast, from Maine to California. I needed to create ten settings in places I knew well enough to make the setting an integral part of the story. I've traveled quite a bit, but this was a challenge.
- And lastly, a story doesn't flow for me until I have a title I'm happy with. I've never been able to write without a title, or even with something I consider a working title. I have a fairly easy time coming up with titles, but ten separate titles in a few short months taxed my creativity.
It hasn't been as simple as I expected, but at the end of this process, I'm happy to say I've learned a great deal about writing short. Some of the lessons will also apply to my longer books. If you haven't written a short story, I recommend it. Just don't expect it to be easy.