There are a lot of great things about short stories – they’re fast to write (at least in comparison to novels), there’s plenty of markets for them, and they allow you to practice and hone your craft while you learn to deal with the realities of the publishing world.
I often use them to explore my larger worlds with fresh characters, and consequently there’s been more than one occasion where a character from short story has made it into a novel.
That said, short stories take a long time to master (if that’s even possible), and even experienced writers who’ve got dozens, perhaps hundreds of shorts published, still learn with each new story they produce.
My advice: Always have at least one or two short stories on the go. That’s something I neglected for a long time.
Here’s some more great advice:
“In a short story, every word counts and every scene should do triple duty. You’ve no time to waste.”Vanessa MacLellan
“Short stories for a writer are like sketches are for an artist. There is only room to explore your main subject. Every line counts, so make the best of them.”Kelly Martin
“Don’t try to turn a short story into a novel.”Vruta Gupte
“Short stories are a great way to get feedback from readers. With minimal investment, you can see which of your stories readers like the best – and then, the most popular stories can be used for your next novel.”Drew Briney
“A short is kind of like a poignant snapshot of a much deeper story. So don’t get too bogged down trying to tell the WHOLE story. DO tell enough to draw the reader in and make it an interesting story within the larger story.”Dana Masting
“The few words of a short story can be far more powerful than a novel if done right. Often this takes more out of you to do this, and will leave you more drained than a novel can after it is finished.”Andrea Jensen
“You can still earn money writing short stories.”Vruta Gupte
“Writing shorts stories help sell your bigger novels. Gives new readers a small taste of your projects to garner interest. Not everything you write has to be the Great American Novel.”Chris Mentzer
“I wish I’d known to not be embarrassed or distressed because I suck at writing short stories. My natural story length is the novel, and I don’t have to follow the “conventional wisdom” that you have to break in with short stories, and then sell the novel.”Gerri Lynn Baxter
“I’ve never written a short story, but just about every scene I’ve written has a beginning, middle, and end…”Mark Mercieca
If I could tell you the secret of writing a successful book, would you like to know what it is?
There is actually a secret, and it’s pretty neat.
What’s more, it works on all genres and subgenres, and will even help you break the genre barrier and reach beyond, which is where you want to be if you hope to sell in big numbers.
A recent discussion that cropped up on Google Plus, and one that often appears among writers, was about a certain book that people love to hate.
I won’t mention it by name in order to protect the innocent filmmakers involved, but it rhymes with highlight and features sparkly vampires.
I read it a while back along with a bunch of other successful books including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Hunger Games, all of which racked up ridiculous sales numbers.
The reason I read them, other than to appease the people telling me I should (hint hint), was to try and understand why they were so popular.
The comment that sparked the discussion on Google Plus claimed that the sparkly vampire book was badly written – a subjective remark at best, and way off the mark at worst.
To some extent I can see where the comment was coming from. The novel didn’t work for me either, but I was hardly its target audience, and that’s not a reason to say it was badly written.
Having broken it (and others) down, I found it more or less structurally perfect and technically fine. What it lacked, if anything, was originality. Other big sellers contained quite a few original elements, so the secret wasn’t there.
And I suspect that’s where this particular comment originated.
The book rhyming with highlight followed a standard formula in an emerging subgenre, while doing little more than tweaking the known tropes.
In the end it gave its readers exactly what they wanted and expected.
In short, it didn’t do anything special from a story standpoint, so the secret wasn’t there either.
So what was the secret?
Here’s a question. What would you do if you could apply that secret to your own writing, without:
compromising your integrity as a writer
giving up on originality
dumbing down or nullifying your brilliant ideas?
What would you do if I said the secret was simple and could be applied to almost any story?
Take a look at any book that’s sold millions of copies, read it, and then take a look at that book’s audience. What do you see?
You see people who:
recommend the book to their friends
discuss the book online and off
look for other books by that same author.
In short, you see fans. Lots of fans. Why do books find fans?
Because fans care about your characters and what happens to them.
It’s as simple as that.
Make your audience care and they’ll tell their friends, discuss it online, and even look for more of your stories. They’ll become fans, and you’ll become successful.
You don’t even have to alienate your niche market to do it.
It’s obviously not as easy as it sounds or everyone would be selling millions of books, but the more people you can make care about your characters and what happens to them, the more successful you’ll become as a writer – assuming you judge success by sales numbers.
If not, forget you read this post and keep on doing what you’re doing.
If you want to sell books though… well, now you know what it takes.
Last year was a huge year in many ways. I landed an agent and kicked a bunch of other goals, all of which have moved my writing career forward in several ways.
So what are my Big Hairy Audacious Goals for this year? I should probably write a list:
Get my epic fantasy signed by a big publisher.
Edit and self-publish at least one novella.
Write at least one new novel or novella.
Obviously, the first of those three major goals is out of my hands (although I’ll do everything I can to make it happen), but the other two are entirely up to me.
I’m currently editing the first novella in a series – Through The Veil: Welcome to Earth, which I hope to self-publish this year, and I’d like to plan and write at least one of its sequels. Preferably two.
I also have a stand-alone novella (loosely set within in the series) written, and a novel set in the same universe. Both need editing/review/polishing.
Blog regularly. Once a week would be good.
Continue to grow my social media presence.
Get at least one short story published.
Attend at least two conventions.
Give at least three writers workshops or presentations.
I think most of those secondary goals are pretty doable too, although no doubt I’ll struggle with the blogging. I didn’t originally name this blog ‘The Infrequent Blog’ for nothing. Still, it’s a goal I’d like to kick.
For a little bit of fun, but mostly experience, I made a book trailer for a work in progress.
It’s not the greatest thing in the world, but for an afternoon’s work and considering all I had was a bunch of clips and a copy of Movie Maker (which I’d never used before – in fact, I’ve never used any movie-making software), I think I’ve done pretty well.
I’d be interested to know what you think about:
where it could be improved.
I know I’ve got a huge list of things I’d change if I had the right skills and the time (including an image of actual book cover at the end), but please let me know your thoughts about anything else you notice isn’t working for you, or you would change/add/alter (in the comments section or elsewhere).
It was a lot harder to come to a decision than I’d thought it would be – as well as the responses directly on my blog, there were plenty more on G+ and even a few emailed directly to me.
What’s more, they were all awesome, making the decision even harder.
Thanks everyone so much for entering! I had a lot of fun doing this post and I hope you had fun too!
Although all the responses were fantastic, there was only one position available for murder, and so I had to make a really tough choice.
I eventually went with the response I thought was the most creative: Vanessa MacLellan!
Here’s Vanessa’s response: So far that month, Vanessa had burned a pattern in her lawn, eaten raw liver, sacrificed her pet bunny, Arnold, erected a tower of tinfoil and chrome, and sent emails to Aliens@space.com and still she had no visitations, though the real reason she should die: striped socks with plaid pants.
Congrats Vanessa – it’s going to be a pleasure to murder you… in print, of course.
Do you fantasise about being kidnapped and murdered by an evil shapeshifter (every day, right)?
Not the lycanthrope kind, but the ‘let’s take dark magic and warp someone’s mind and body’ kind.
Perhaps being murdered is your greatest fear and you feel a desperate need to exorcise it, or maybe you’d just love to show the story to a loved one and see their reaction.
Whatever your reason, here’s your chance to vicariously live the dream.
The story situation is quite simple: an innocent girl is going to get killed in order to send another girl a ‘message’. She’ll be stabbed to death – the body discovered after the event.
The dead girl could have your name. Sounds like fun, right? (If it does, you need to see someone with quack-type qualifications.)
So here’s what you have to do.
In the comments below, simply tell me why you’d love to get your namesake murdered.
The best response will win you immortality in print along with a digital copy of the book when complete. I’d have offered you a new Ferrari, but I’m all out of Ferrari’s at the moment.
It’s a girl that gets murdered, so it has to be a girl’s name. If you have a guy’s name, you’re welcome to find a female equivalent (so long as you include your actual name too).
You need to impress me with a response to this question: Why do you want your namesake gruesomely killed off? I’ll choose a winner based on the responses.
It has to be your own name – your mother-in-law’s name and those of your enemies and friends are off limits.
Keep it to a single sentence (I’m applying the KISS principle here).
You can enter multiple times.
I can add and remove rules as I see fit (the butt-covering rule).
If you enter, I reserve the right to look at you strangely for all eternity.
The competition closes at midnight (your time), November 9, 2013 (Friday the 13th was too far off).
I’ll announce the winner shortly thereafter.
Here’s the story’s premise: A warrior princess from another universe unexpectedly falls for a human boy while hunting the shapeshifter that murdered her parents.
The girl that gets murdered is human (just like you – so if you’ve got a name that sounds like it comes from another world, I may veto your entry because that’s not what I’m looking for, but put your entry in anyway).
And that’s it. I’m looking forward to reading your deepest, darkest, most horribly gruesome desires!
I spent the last weekend at GenreCon in sunny Brisbane. Brisbane is incredibly pleasant for such a big city – at least where I was staying at South Bank.
Clean and tidy, open and airy, they’ve put a lot of effort into making the riverfront appealing, including a rainforest walk, a free pool/beach, a massive open-air stage and a café and restaurant district.
GenreCon itself was held at the State Library, a modern building with a bookshop and café outside, and great facilities inside.
The event began with a cocktail party where I caught up with a bunch of friends including Mark and Luke Mercieca, Amanda Bridgeman, David Versace and Josh Melican, and met a whole heap more.
I only wish it had gone on for twice as long.
We followed up the cocktail party with drinks at the official Con hotel, though I snuck off to bed a bit early as I didn’t want to risk a hangover.
Some people chose to risk it judging by the zombie stares and Twitter talk the next day.
Day 1 was full-on. It included:
fantastic keynote speakers
The highlight for me was the workshop on creating book trailers with Scott Baker.
Scott gave us lots of very useful information disguised as common-sense, straightforward guidelines, but in reality he made it clear that a professional-looking book trailer is really hard to pull together, and potentially quite expensive.
The other big highlight of the day was a great chat I had with the lovely Rochelle Fernandez from HarperVoyager.
Not being faced with the prospect of having to pitch a novel to her at any point, it was a relaxed, easy-going conversation. It felt like a catch-up with an old colleague.
Saturday night featured the Cutlasses and Kimono’s Banquet, where Chuck Wendig’s speech: 25 Reasons Why Genre Is Awesome (or something to that effect), had the room in laughter and cheers. Brilliant speaker. He loves wombats of the steampunk variety, apparently.
He followed it up by answering 25 Questions, which produced just as many laughs.
The final day was the ‘interesting’ day.
It started with a ‘What the?’ moment.
I woke up well before the con started, and being slightly hung-over following the banquet and after-party, I figured I needed a little more sleep.
So I took it upon myself to roll over and get some.
At some point I started awake, and panicked. You would have too.
There was less than ten minutes until the con started. I bolted for the shower, determined not to miss anything.
That was stupid, of course.
The hotel was a ten to fifteen minute walk from the con, and I still had to pack up and check out.
Regretfully, I decided to sacrifice the keynote speeches, get organised, and arrive late as if I’d intended to do so all along.
Naturally enough, being at a genre convention, I entered a Time Warp at that moment.
Time Warp you say? Seriously? Yeah, seriously.
Nothing else could possibly explain it, not even the fact that the room was fairly dark when I woke and my watch has hands but no numbers.
After checking out of the hotel, I was about halfway to the con when I decided to check my social media feeds on my phone.
My phone was clearly broken. The time read 6:56am. What the…?
I checked my watch. Same thing. I looked around. The streets were fairly quiet for what was supposed to be about 10am, and the sun oddly low in the sky.
Thanks to my own personal Time Warp, I’d been given the gift of several hours.
Stranger things have happened, like the time I fell ten metres and then swam to the edge of the pool without a single broken bone.
Taking the Time Warp in my stride, I did what every red-blooded Australian would do.
I picked up some coffee and banana bread, and went for a long walk along the river. I even took some photos on my phone.
I got to the library a good hour before the con started, too. Impressive, no? Just like I planned.
Despite that, I felt as if I’d already had a big day.
After downing another coffee I rested on a bench, my ‘Duff Beer’ hat over face, and nursed my Time Warp-muddled senses until Peter Ball let me in early (what a champion!).
Day two highlights: Lean Pub – a way to publish your work as a serial, or just publish them as an e-book. Looks pretty interesting. I’ll be playing with their site and maybe using it for a series of short stories and/or writing articles.
The other highlight was the Thinking Like a Pro panel with Valerie Parv, Keri Arthur and John Connolly. Always good to get the perspective of a pro.
Unfortunately I missed the final panel and The Great Debate as Qantas refused to hold my plane for me.
Okay, technically it’s their plane, but I’d hired a seat and paid for a wonderful dinner of three tiny biscuits and a microscopic tub of relish.
The lessons I took home from GenreCon were vastly superior and much more filling than the Qantas meal, and definitely worth the effort.
A big thank you to Meg Vann and Peter Ball and all the other Con Ninjas for putting on such a great, professional event. Cheers guys – rest up for a bit.
I run a regular Novel Writers Group at the ACT Writers Centre, usually spearheaded by a topic of the month.
This month it was The High Concept.
It’s worth devoting some time to it and figuring out.
During the discussion, the High Concept quite often got confused with Theme and Plot, probably because it’s tied into both.
Phillip Berrie, a member of the group, recently wrote a wonderful novella called The Changeling Detective.
Right there in the title is the basis of the story’s High Concept – a detective who can alter his appearance.
There’s a heck of a lot more going on in the book than that, and the overall series might have a different High Concept compared to the individual book, but as a stand-alone that’s what’s at the heart of it.
Break it down
What happens in the story is Plot, and this will influence the High Concept.
So will the story’s higher meaning – its Theme.
Both Plot and Theme hang off High Concept, not the other way around.
The Changeling Detective centres around a character who can change his appearance – short and simple. Everything’s tied into that. In this case, it’s an origin story – which further influences the High Concept.
Try explaining your High Concept to someone who doesn’t know the story
Practice with something familiar:
A family has been lost in space and is trying to find a way home. (Lost in Space)
Factions of a galactic empire fight for control of a rare mind and body-altering drug. (Dune)
Gods are manipulating people and events to try and win control of a universe. (Prophecy of Power: Quarry. Okay, that’s mine. Couldn’t resist)
The High Concept is your sales pitch, your Big Idea.
It doesn’t encompass your story – it’s the basis for it.
How do you find your own High Concept?
Look to the title.
You may not find it there (Dune, for example, doesn’t encompass it, though the Spice comes from the planet Dune and the story is set there – but the sequels come closer: Children of Dune, Chapter House Dune, etc).
Star Wars, Lost in Space, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – all give you insights into the story’s High Concept.
Consider you’re telling your best friend about a story you’ve just read. What do you say?
Imagine a bunch of robots are trying to destroy their makers, and:
The survivors flee their homeworld looking for a safe haven… Battlestar Galactica.
A cyborg is sent back in time to end human resistance before it begins… Terminator.
A man has the power to manipulate programmed reality… The Matrix.
Find the basis of your High Concept and expand on it in a single sentence.
Anyone can write a story about a secret agent with a licence to kill, but there’s only one James Bond. That particular High Concept has spawned countless books, movies, games and rip-offs.
To find your own, you’ll need to add a little uniqueness.
Start with the word ‘imagine’ and then lay it out.
What’s mine? Imagine… The Gods are manipulating people and events in order to gain control of an entire universe. The premise of the story? A princess is being hunted by assassins because of a prophecy she wants no part in. They’re tied together – but certainly not the same.
What’s your High Concept? Let me know in the comments.