By Lyn Horner
I’m a regular follower of the Western Romance Writers Please Post Here #2 discussion on Amazon’s Meet Our Authors forum. In late 2013, fifteen authors, including myself, agreed to put together an anthology of short stories intended to give readers a sample of each one’s writing style.
I thought this project would be fun and it probably wouldn’t take much time since our stories were to be very short, from two to three thousand words. Right.
The only problem was I’d previously written only a couple short stories, flash fiction pieces that are actually part of bigger plot lines. How was I going to tell a complete romance in so few words? What had I gotten myself into?
After brooding over the problem for a couple weeks, I grabbed a notebook and pen and settled into a nice hot bath. No, I’m not kidding. The wet heat seems to stimulate my brain. Or maybe it’s just that there’s nothing to distract me, a big plus since I’m easily distracted.
I had absolutely no story idea in mind, but the moment pen touched paper this guy leapt out of my head, insisting his story be told. What story, I asked? He promptly informed me he was a lawman in a small Colorado town. After some discussion, we decided his name would be Trace Balfour. Then he dictated the opening scene, a run-in with a snooty schoolmarm and a pair of wildcat saloon girls trying to tear each other apart.
Okay, but then what? Who was the lawman going to get romantic with, one of the feisty fillies rolling around in the dirt or the stiff-necked teacher who sets his teeth on edge? More importantly, how was he supposed to win the mystery woman’s heart in the allotted word length?
My logical, outline-loving brain said no way. I’d need at least a hundred pages to get them cozy enough to hop in bed, wouldn’t I? My characters never engage in full blown love scenes until they’ve known each other a while. After that, things get steamy, but not in 2,000 words, for gosh sakes!
Let me tell you, this short story business had me stumped. It required more brooding, reading up on short story techniques, and several false starts before I figured out how to bring the marshal and his sweetheart together in The Lawman’s Lady.
- Settings must be bare-bones; no flowery descriptions.
- Don’t dilly-dally. Jump quickly into the action. Your opening must grab the reader and make them want to read on.
- Avoid passive voice and choose strong verbs. Use adverbs sparingly, especially ones that end in “ly.”
- In most cases, stay in one point of view. If you must use two POVs as I did in mine, stick to one per scene; NEVER head hop.
- Forget delving deep into your characters’ thoughts, memories and motivation. There’s no room for much introspection. If backstory is important, make it concise.
- Every word should move the story along; sentences are like paragraphs, paragraphs are like pages in a book.
- Don’t show off; fancy words can be a turnoff. Write in a way readers can relate to and easily understand. If someone is reading your short story on their lunch break, they don’t want to hunt for words in a dictionary.
- Actions speak louder than words. Show emotions through body language, facial expressions and dialogue.
- Catch your characters off guard. An unexpected event, whether good or bad, gives the reader a jolt of surprise.
- Conclude paragraphs and scenes with action; don’t summarize what’s happened. Save the best for last. End your story with a dramatic punch that sticks in a reader’s mind.
Short stories are a whole different kettle of fish for an author who normally writes historical novels in the 100,000-word range. After this exercise I have newfound respect for short story writers.
How about you? Have you tried writing short shorties? What kinds of problems did you run into?
Lyn’s latest novel, Dearest Irish (Texas Devlins III), stars a colleen with a healing touch and a half-breed cowboy torn by loyalty to two worlds. This Native American/paranormal romance won a Reviewers Choice award from the Paranormal Romance Guild and a 2014 Reader’s Choice Award nomination from BigAl’s Books and Pals. This book was is also nominated for a Rone Award.
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