So, welcome Liv Rancourt, short story writer extraordinaire.
Writing Short Stories
Congratulations, Cora, on your Sisters In Crime panel experience. I know that was a lot of fun, both for you and your audience! And thanks for the invite to be a guest on your blog.
You asked about my experience writing short stories, and since I did a lot of that in the last year, I’m happy to share what I learned with your readers.
Between December of 2011 and December of 2012, I had eight short stories published with two different publishers. Four of them are in anthologies from Still Moments Publishing, and the other four were published independently by editor Rayne Hall in her Ten Tales series. Each project was different, and each one taught me something I’m now applying to my longer WIP.
I basically treated last year as graduate school, and thought of every short story as an assignment. I wrote paranormal, historical, horror, and contemporary romance, in both first and close third person points of view. I learned that working from the POV of a 15 year old boy in 1810 New Orleans is a huge challenge. I learned I don’t know diddly-squat about the standard tropes for horror writing. And I learned how important it is to limit the number of characters in even a longish, 10,000 word short story, or you will lose and confuse your readers.
On the plus side, I realized how comfortable I am writing contemporary romance from a snappy first-person POV. I can write from third person if the piece calls for it, but it’s nice to know I have a go-to skill that almost always works.
My story The Santa Drag first appeared in the Christmas Treats: Santa’s Nice List anthology in December 2011, and then was re-released as a stand-alone $0.99 short in December 2012. In between, I got to make another editing pass, which was a cool way of seeing how much I’d learned. I trimmed several hundred words from a 6000 word short story because I realized they didn’t add much to the plot. Some bits got reconfigured and worked back in, but overall the stand-alone version is leaner and more fun to read.
That experience illustrates one of the keys to writing a short story. You don’t have the luxury of 100,000 words to build your world and develop your characters. Every-Single-Word-Has-To-Count. Choose details that both reinforce your scene and illustrate your character. Trim unnecessary dialogue tags, and don’t tell the reader what they already know. Edit like a demon and don’t waste space.
Another key is to keep your plot tightly focused. Deal with one main conflict, with maybe one or two secondary threads, and limit the number of characters involved. A cast of thousands – or even ten – won’ fit into five thousand words. If you’re struggling with this part, then the story might be too big for the format, and you may need to think in terms of a novella-length piece or even a novel.
Most compelling plots are built around a model like Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. You can do that with short stories, too, but you only have space to show some of the steps. Reference the other steps, so that your reader has a sense that your story has a bigger context as you hone in on one section of the model’s arc.
Like everything in writing, “the rules” aren’t cast in stone. These are just some of the tools I picked up that I hope will help you in your work. If there’s a specific technique you want to try – writing from a different POV or using a historical setting, for example – put it in a short story. You’ll have the chance to practice without committing hours of time and energy to a project that might just end up as a learning exercise.
Short stories and novellas are popular e-book sellers, so it’s a format that’s worth exploring for its own sake. If I apply the correct persuasive techniques to my beta readers, I can turn around a 5000 story in under two weeks. (I’m lucky that most of them will work for chocolate, or sometimes cocktails.) Some ideas simply work better in a short format, and I keep a list of possibilities handy, to work on between more extensive projects. Writing short stories takes discipline, but it’s fun and well worth the effort.
Liv Rancourt writes paranormal and romance, often at the same time. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, two cats and one wayward puppy. She likes to create stories that have happy endings, and finds it is a good way to balance her other job in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Liv can be found on-line at:
Website & blog (www.livrancourt.com)
Molly, a forty-something single mom, tangles with the wrong guy and gets a hell of a hickey. That blotch is really a demon’s mark, and she’ll have to face the three things that scare her most to get rid of it. First, Molly loses her job and then she has a near-sex experience with her philandering, not-quite-ex-husband. Worst of all, she has to sit by a hospital bed, wondering if her son is ever going to wake up.
The Powers That Be assign Cass to help her. He’s an angel who’s trying to earn a seat in the celestial choir by helping out a human in need. Vanquishing the demon would be his ticket up, but only if he plays by the rules. He’ll never earn his wings if he loses his heart to the lovely Molly. But she has even bigger things to worry about. She stands to lose her soul.
Let's have a devil of a good time!