Thanks for joining me here on the Prairies today! I’m pleased to be a part of the Classic Romance Revival’s Blog Carnival in promotion of our short story anthology “The Cupid Diaries: Moments in Time”. Thirteen romance writers have combined to create an anthology of sixteen short stories that range from contemporary and historical, to urban fantasy and futuristic romance. There’s truly a story here for every reader’s taste.
“Moments in Time” is a very apt title for a short story collection because a good short story endeavors to capture that one riveting moment when an event occurs that changes the course of a character’s life. Or perhaps it’s the moment when a character must make an important decision. I thought I’d take this opportunity to explore short story writing and that all important “moment in time”. Here are a few tips I’ve gleaned from studying the art of writing the short story:
1. Theme is everything. What is your story about? I’m not talking the events of the plot, but the ideas a writer wants to convey. A writer of a short story wants to explore a theme and pass her interpretation of that theme on to her readers. For example in my story “Hometown Hearts” I wanted to explore the idea of going back to live in the hometown that wasn’t always a happy place for you when you were a kid. Can you go home again? In “The Way to a Man’s Heart” I wanted to know if two people who had been best friends since childhood could risk that friendship to become a couple. Can friendship survive love? A clear theme throughout the story will resonate with readers and help the writer sort out what to include and exclude in her story.
2. An effective short story covers a very short amount of time. The time span covered in “Hometown Hearts” is brief; the evening of Jamie’s class reunion when she meets Chris again after so many years, and then later at the fire station, where Jamie returns the jacket she’d spilled soda on. It may be tempting to write extensively about your character’s background, family, friends, etc. but resist the urge. Remember this is a moment in time. Save your deeper explorations for your novel.
3. Start with a bang. A catchy opening line is critical in short story. Dennis G. Jerz says “the first sentence of your short story should catch your reader's attention with the unusual, the unexpected, an action, or a conflict. Begin with tension and immediacy. Remember that short stories need to start close to their end. “ Draw your reader in with your opening and it will hook them for the rest of the story.
4. Make every word count. A short story has no words to waste. Eliminate passive verbs, unnecessary dialogue tags, and any words or passages that don’t contribute to your overall theme. It may be tempting to give poetic descriptions of people and settings, but if these explanations don’t add to theme, or create emotion or conflict, delete them.
5. Too many characters spoil the short story. Use only as many characters as necessary to tell your story. Every additional character brings their own personalities, their own storylines, and can take focus away from your main characters and the story and theme you want to tell. A short story doesn’t have room for subplots and casts of thousands. Remember, a moment in time. Like novel writing, you need to know much more about your characters than you’ll every reveal in your short story. Dennis G. Jerz gives a list of characteristics to consider in “Ten Tips for Creative Writers” when deciding who your character is.
This is only a brief outline of things to keep in mind when writing a short story. Short story writers also need to consider elements of plot, conflict, and characterization that are essential to longer fiction. The important thing to remember is that whereas a novel may portray a character’s entire life, the short story picks one important moment out of that life and shines a beacon of light on it. A Moment in Time.
Have you written short fiction? Do you enjoy reading short stories? What do you find are the differences, and challenges, in writing short fiction as compared to a full-length novel?
To celebrate being part of this blog carnival I have two prizes today. I am giving away one copy of “The Cupid Diaries: A Moment in Time” and one copy of my latest novella “Burning Love”. To be eligible to win please answer this very difficult question: What are the names of my two short stories included in “The Cupid Diaries: A Moment in Time”? Be sure to leave your email address in your comment. To fool the Internet trolls, use "at" and "dot" instead of the symbols, as in jana dot richards at hotmail dot com. Two names will be chosen at random from all the correct answers.