My critique group is busy crafting new short stories for Book 2 of our Route 66 Anthology series. My story is going great. It’s not all on the page yet, but it is in my head. Also, the ending came to me clear as a bell. The main character spoke the last line of the story and I wrote that scene as soon as I could. I have two main characters and I have a theme: regrets. One problem I realized after our discussion is that my story has no antagonist.
Short stories have the same components as full-length novels. Neil Gaiman talks about short stories in his MasterClass (well worth the price at masterclass.com). He learned from a mentor that “a short story is the last chapter of the novel that was never written.” How brilliant is that?
Here are your short story components:
Strong sense of place, setting.
The basic story conflicts apply, as we’ve noted in a previous blog: man versus man; man versus nature; man versus himself.
Plot (sequence of events)
Theme. Some examples: big idea, universal, underlying meaning such as ‘loneliness’, what lies beneath the surface ‘obsession’, moral of the story ‘love stinks’.
A protagonist and an antagonist.
Even short stories feature a main character (MC) that changes in some way from beginning to the end, called the character arc. What does your MC want? What are the things that prevent your MC from achieving that goal? Flat characters are boring and does not experience any growth from beginning to end.
Dig deep and make that emotional connection with your reader. Tug at their heart strings. Keep writing, and good luck with your short stories!
Historical details haunt me. Am I getting this right? Accuracy in the stories I’m writing cause me much concern and angst; I never feel I’ve done enough homework or that I have a full grasp of the time period. Take for example a letter to the editor of the Western Writers of America’s magazine. He wrote to complain about the use of the word “sheriff” in western novels. City councils hired a “marshall”, not a sheriff. For my middle-grade series set in the Wild West, I did research Marshall, who was appointed by the U.S. President at the time. I got that right. The thought to question and research the term ‘Sheriff’ never once crossed my mind. Will the incorrect information aggravate some readers, and since it’s a children’s book, should writers have an even bigger obligation to make certain the historical information is accurate?
I’m experiencing the same doubts when working on the WordsmithSix’s Route 66 anthology. The history is fascinating, and it’s difficult to stop the research and just write. My story is set in the 1930s, and when I read first-hand accounts of the time period, I want to include all of the details that I find enthralling, but the readers may find cumbersome. I guess the best thing to do, is just let the characters decide.
Here’s the blurb for our upcoming anthology, which will be a collection of stories from different time periods but with one common Route 66 location. I think readers will love this collection of stories, and the research has been fun. My story is actually based on the true circumstances of my husband’s great-grandmother and is set in 1930’s Texas.
It started as a dirt path connecting neighbors, communities, states and finally a nation. Route 66 was an overland route traveled by pioneers, migrant farmers, and anyone going west looking for the American dream. From wagon ruts to an asphalt highway, it has connected generations of people.
Join us as we travel through time from the early days and well into the future on the Mother Road.
OUR TIME ON ROUTE 66 is a collection of stories that tell of good times and bad, love and heartache, from the past to beyond tomorrow, and all of them are connected by one stop, the Tower Station, and U-Drop Inn.
As a writer, I try to get the most bang for the buck with my stories. For example, can I turn a novel into a screenplay? Or could I rework a short story into a novel? No matter what I decide to do, I run into roadblocks, tar pits, and briar patches. Truthfully, I can’t decide if it’s easier to expand a work, or cut it back. Here’s what I’ve learned.
I had a novella. I really liked what I had written. The characters were multi-dimensional and interesting. Secondary characters added spice to the story. I had a good setting with my small Texas town. Above all, I liked my storyline. A rich man tries to destroy a young woman and her family because he can. Now the lady is back and out for justice. I ran the idea by an agent and he replied, “I can’t sell this as a novella, but you have enough plot twists to make it a novel.”
Okay, I could do a novel. All I needed was another 300 pages and I had to write the additional material while maintaining the integrity of the story. Well, I wrote it; 550 pages of carefully plotted revenge. Now it’s too long and I have to cut about 150 pages; which means I will have to delete scenes I really like.
On the other hand, I have a short story that is too long for a call for submissions. But how do I cut it back to 350-400 words without destroying the emotional impact of the piece?
At some point, a writer realizes part of the craft is either adding scenes or subtracting words. We balance the plot while increasing dialogue or deleting adjectives and adverbs. And sometimes we just can’t make the math work, so we scrap the revisions and start over. I guess I never realized how important mathematics would be for professional writers.