Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Short Story Solution

By L. A. Starks

What do you do when your characters talk too much, dwell too long on their histories, make a break for a random subplot, or merely interrupt the narrative flow?

Set aside the rogue paragraphs or pages. There’s a solution (besides the delete button) to corral straying characters and rogue plot twists: turn these pages into short stories or novellas. They can be published as stand-alones, as marketing giveaways, or in anthologies.

Taylor Stevens says about her novella, The VESSEL, “As a genre writer, I’m required to keep each story within a certain length. I ran into that situation with THE DOLL and so we ended up with a 5-month gap in the final pages in which we knew Vanessa Michael Munroe tied up a loose end but weren’t there to experience how it happened. A lot of readers wished they could have known the details—and I wanted to know them too!—which is how THE VESSEL came to be written.”

While certain story threads ultimately didn’t fit the books for which they were written, each focused on the interaction of my two Dayton series characters and an event that shapes them.

Subplot. “Robert and Thérèse Guillard: Choices,” in Amazon Shorts (Lynn Dayton #0.5) reveals more about 13 DAYS antagonist Robert Guillard. Robert’s exhilaration after high-tech wingsuit flying gives way to rage when he discovers his wife’s secret.

Prologue. “A Time For Eating Wild Onions,” in Amazon Shorts (Lynn Dayton #1.5) began as a prologue for two characters in STRIKE PRICE. Along with fry bread and grape dumplings, wild onions are a traditional Native American dish. The Cherokee language gives additional texture to the crucible that was San Francisco during the Vietnam War. The character named Mitch in this story I renamed Jesse Drum in STRIKE PRICE.

Back-story . “Josh Rosen and Bubbe,” in Kindle Direct (Lynn Dayton #2.5) about Josh and his grandmother was inspired by a former neighbor who was a Holocaust survivor.
Allison Brennan, who has written 24 novels and has two more in production, says, “The first time I wrote a short story was after being asked to contribute to the ITW anthology KILLER YEAR. I (now) write a short story or novella between nearly every full-length novel I write. The reasons: (a) It’s a challenge. I like to push myself to try something new and different within a set format. (b) It's fun. I won't say that short stories are easier, but they are less complex than novels and because there isn't an expectation for sale, they're freeing. (c) I've become a cleaner, tighter writer because I've learned to say more with fewer words. (d) Short stories are a good way to get into anthologies put out by established organizations to grow my readership.”

So the next time your beta readers or your editors suggest removing a character or a subplot, save those pages. You’ve earned the genesis of a new short story or a novella.

L. A. Starks is the winner of the Texas Association of Authors' 2014 award for best mystery/thriller for her second Lynn Dayton thriller, Strike Price. Working more than a decade for well-known energy companies in engineering, marketing, and finance from refineries to corporate offices prepared Starks to write global energy thrillers. Three of Starks' short stories have been published in Amazon Shorts/Kindle Direct. She is multi-published on dozens of energy topics at investor websites, energy trade publications, and major newspapers. She is the co-inventor of a US patent. Starks has run eleven half-marathons. She serves as board investment committee chair for the Friends of the Dallas Public Library, a fund-raising and advocacy group that supports Dallas' 28-branch library system.

When several people involved in bidding for an oil refinery are murdered, the situation becomes far more than a billion-dollar business deal. A self-made woman, Lynn Dayton fights to save lives after escalating attacks eventually reveal a hired assassin’s plan to draw another global power into dangerous confrontation with the United States over trillion-dollar oil stakes. Are the killers rogue civil servants challenging the Cherokees’ financial independence, Sansei operatives again wreaking violence, or sinister investors swapping the bidding war for a real one? Lynn Dayton and Cherokee tribal executive Jesse Drum must learn to trust each other so they can find and stop the killers. Can sobering up really be fatal? How have so many of the deaths been made to appear accidental? Who’s creating weapons with modern poisons and ancient Cherokee arts?


vicki batman said...

Good morning! My big breakthroughs in publishing came through writing romantic comedy shorts for magazines. I love those and am happier because I get ADD when writing a book. lol.

I have to add some people think a character sketch is a short. It is not. A short has a beginning, middle, black moment and end just like a book.

Nor is a short a teaser for a longer work.

Very nice post!

Jenny Milchman said...

This is a great angle, especially for writers who can wear both hats and switch back and forth.

Thanks for the post!

L. A. Starks said...

Thanks, Vicki and Jenny! Yes, short story/novella writing does differ from longer books.
LA Starks

Nancy Means Wright said...

A provocative blog! And yes, I've learned economy of words (less is more)through writing short stories.It is fun to "take a break" and do a short-short after completing something long. Good for the brain and the fingers.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Valuable advice for all writers. I write both novels and short stories and value both genres. A good idea to place series characters into short fiction.

L. A. Starks said...

Nancy & Jacqueline--Yes, "writing short" has its own satisfactions and challenges for sure.
Thanks for your comments! LAS

Susan Coryell said...

What a way to use your "real life work experiences" to create great fiction!. Good luck with your latest project--it sounds compelling.

Helen Henderson said...

Thanks for presenting such a great alternative to the delete key. I've used it a time or two myself. In each of the Dragshi Chronicles, a legend or historical character is mentioned. I took each of references, gave life to the legend and have collected them into a separate book of short stories and novellas. While waiting for the companion book of legends to be published, the first novella, Magic and Steel: Mt'wan Comraich was released as a stand-aone.