Please welcome guest blogger Paige Cucarro
Having a knack for writing short stories is kind of like having curly hair. People with curly hair wish they had straight hair and people with straight hair wish they had curly. A lot of writers find they can either write long or short, but switching back and forth becomes a problem. Since this is about writing short, we’ll focus on writers who find it difficult to condense their epic, multi-generational, globe-tripping, character-rich ideas into fifteen-thousand-word quickies. No surprise. Short stories aren’t supposed to be epics, right? Short stories are meant to offer a glimpse into a world where something interesting is just about to happen, and when the interesting thing is over, the story is done.
Short stories present a reachable goal, a surmountable conflict, a clear motivation and a satisfying resolution. All the extra stuff, is well...extra and can be left out. Okay, so with that in mind, here are a few tips that might help reel in that far-stretching, multilevel imagination of yours.
- Clear the stage: If they aren’t stars, keep them in the wings.
In short stories, there’s no room for subplots, flushed-out secondary characters, or settings that steal the stage. For romance, there’s a hero and a heroine. If your story needs a sounding board, someone your main character can think aloud to, introduce them in the simplest terms. If the story isn’t about them, we don’t need a detailed account of what they look like, what motivates them, or their back story. You can just say she’s the heroine’s look-alike mom, or her perky friend, or her lazy dog. One-word descriptions work great, and then you can set these secondary characters to work propelling the story.
- Reunion stories: Love can be better the second time around
An easy short cut is for the hero and heroine to have a history when the story begins. Having your characters already introduced and engaged in some sort of relationship -- friends, co-workers, work-out partners, etc... saves a TON of words by cutting out the “Hi, my name’s Sally. What’s yours?” stage of the story. It also saves time spent on revving up the interest between the hero and heroine.
- Straightforward motivation: No time to be deep and mysterious about your characters' reasons.
The more basic the motivation, the easier your story will unfold. Sex, greed, love, hate -- these motivations are fantastic plot devices in a short story. Maybe your character needs a date to an office party, or she’s had the hots for the hero forever and finally decides to take her chances. Or maybe your character needs the prize money from dance contest, and the best dancer she knows is her ex-boyfriend whom she still loves. Whatever it is, if you can sum up your character’s motivation in a quick sentence, it’s a great idea for a short story.
- Make happiness possible: Don’t try to lasso the moon; instead aim for turning on a light.
Like any story, regardless of length, conflict is the fuel for the story. But since a short story is more like a lawnmower and less like a limo, the amount of conflict and the level of complexity can be much less. Trying to resolve abandonment issues or mental scars from some horrific abuse in fifteen thousand words or less is like trying to fill a Dixie Cup by standing out in the rain. Too much unfocused information. Give your characters a fighting chance by narrowing your plot with conflicts that are more everyday. Examples: Friends deciding to take their relationship to the next level. Old lovers nervous over reuniting. Co-workers who reveal their true feelings when they’re stuck together during an office motivational retreat.
- Tender moments: Happily-ever-afters don't require multi-generational sagas.
To make it even easier, shorten the time span of the story: one month, one week, one day, one DATE. Short stories are rarely the tale of an entire life. They’re snap shots, a moment in time snipped from two people’s lives in which they faced a speed bump and overcame it.
All stories regardless of length have a beginning, middle, and end; a character with a goal; a reason for wanting that goal; and a hurdle to overcome to achieve that goal. In short stories there’s no room for anything else. The key is to focus. You must narrow your plot, slim down your cast of characters, zero in on their motivation, simplify the conflict and offer them a goal that’s believably achievable in the short amount of time involved.
Paige Cuccaro also writes under the pseudonym, Alison Paige. She is a multi-published author with Harlequin, Berkley, Samhain and Ellora’s Cave. Her latest electronic release is LITTLE RED AND THE WOLF. Look for her latest print release, NAUGHTY BITS 2 in book stores now.
Who said being eaten by the big bad wolf was a bad thing?
Maizie Hood struggles to keep her bakery turning a profit, her landlord from evicting her, and her dear Granny in a nursing facility. Wrestling with the decision to sell Gran’s cottage is hard enough. The last thing she needs is her childhood big-bad-wolf nightmares turning into real-life adult fantasies. Sexy businessman Gray Lupo’s sudden interest just makes matters worse. Is he the answer to her problems, or just a wolf in gentleman’s Armani?
Since his wife was killed twenty-one years ago, Gray’s life has been focused on two things: protecting the pack and avoiding the grown daughter of his wife’s killers. When it becomes clear he can’t do one without compromising the other, Gray finds playing “big bad wolf” to Maizie Hood’s “Little Red” is a role he enjoys far more than he expected.
A real bad wolf’s attack on Maizie changes everything. Gray can’t deny the pull she has on his instincts—and his heart. Suddenly he finds himself taking on a role he never thought he’d want, as her protector and mate. Until the truth about his connection to her nightmarish past comes to light…