Friday, December 5, 2014

Short Story Conundrum

I have two manuscripts in the editing mode, one Paranormal and one Urban Fantasy. I've won three Flash Fiction contests. Why, then, do I have so much trouble writing Short Stories?

I have actually written two short stories, both rejected, one of them multiple times. I agonized over both stories. What am I doing wrong?

In my longer work, I'm able to pull together a plot and then fill it in. I'm a pantser, so any kind of an outline is out of the question. When I try to use the same tactic with a short story, it doesn't work.

Right now, I'm in the process of constructing a short story, a paranormal mystery, but it isn't coming together.

One problem I've discovered with my shorts is that I haven't fleshed out my characters very much. So, without knowing who they are, it's difficult to know how they'll act. Why is the villain a villain? What makes the protagonist worth befriending or saving? Does the hero have anything more going for him than his good looks?

I know. I know. Of course I should have all that information in hand before attempting to flesh out the story. How else can I make the reader care? But, if I'm able to get all of that information into a story, how long will it be?

I actually have a good back story and motivation for my protagonist. One of her supporting characters is her aunt. (not fleshed out) I'd like to introduce another supporting character in the form of a peer/friend. Okay, how many words will this use? I still haven't taken into account the hero, villain, or red herring characters. And, then there's the plot. How heavy can I make it and still keep it short? I don't know. That's my problem.

Also, what about length? What is a good length for short stories? I know that they can go from flash to novella, but what do readers prefer? Length matters. 

There are any number of websites where I can find information on short stories. 5 Short Story TipsShort Story - longer explanationSome Rules and Tools to name a few. These websites contain excellent advice. But, I still need more help.

So, I've begun an online Short Story workshop. I'm hoping for some guidance, any guidance at all. Maybe if I'm able to ask the instructor specific questions, I'll understand where I can improve. Or, maybe, I just don't have a good short story in me.

I have lots of ideas. That isn't the problem. Transferring the ideas to viable stories in a few thousand words is the what cause me heartburn. 

Maybe I'll try to write flash fiction and then add depth to that. I actually have one flash fiction story that I'd like to flesh out. I might give that a try. 

Both of my previous stories have been horror. I'd like to write something in a mystery or thriller.  I've wondered if the genre change could be what's tripping me up. I'd like to think, but my horror stories haven't gone anywhere. 

The more I think about it, the more confused I feel. In any case, I intend to keep trying. More research, more practice, and some plain old stick-to-itiveness will bring about success. I hope!

In the meantime, I'll take my own advice. Keep Writing!


  1. Great post, Margo. I like the way you deliver your thoughts with humor and pictures! I love your short and long works. It is easy to get lost in the morass of our own writing and thoughts...I know the same thing happens to me.

  2. Go with your gut, Margo. The story is as long as it takes you to tell it. I love all your short stories.

  3. Size does matter, just ask any lady. Lol. Sorry Margo but I couldn't resist. But you made some excellent points especially about knowing your characters. I think you might be putting undo pressure on yourself when you really have only 2 choices. You say you are a "pantser" so give yourself the freedom to write your story as long as it needs to Dianne said. Or you can plan ahead with a particular word count in mind but allow for a couple hundred words of wiggle room up or down. Though if you want to do flash, you need to know that going in. Anyway, great article with plenty of food for thought.