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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Writing Short Fiction

Please welcome guest blogger Barbara Hancock

Writing short fiction is more like bungee jumping than knitting. Remember that, tap into that exhilaration, and you’ll sell time and time again!

Want to write compelling short fiction that sells? There are four secrets I’d like to share that always work for me: concentration, intensity, characters and hook.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines concentration in several ways, but the one that perfectly applies to good short fiction is this:

Concentration n. Strength or density, as of a solution.

If you find yourself failing to write short stories and novellas that sell, take a hard look at the strength and density of your book. From beginning to the end, there can be no detours, no tangents and no extraneous details. If it’s there, it should count. Ideally every scene should count more than once. If you have strength and density in your writing, then a single scene should accomplish numerous goals. To put it graphically, if you aren’t sucking the marrow from the bones as you write, then you have far more meat than a short story should. Suck the marrow from your scenes. Make them work for you and your story and your readers.

And that’s where we discover intensity.

Intensity n. Extreme degree of anything

Your browser may not support display of this image.If you have anything in your story that isn’t extreme, lose it or make it better. This is not to say that you can’t have a gentle, romantic moment in your short story. In fact, good pacing demands highs and lows, ebbs and flows. But in a short story or novella, your gentle moment must have impact because you won’t have time for a hundred pages of gentle moments. That’s why I love this definition of intensity Even your gentle moments should be extreme. Writing short fiction is more like bungee jumping than knitting. Remember that, tap into that exhilaration, and you’ll sell time and time again!

I stopped myself from listing characters first because you should begin with concentration and intensity before you start to craft your hero and heroine. Again, these people are not meandering through a five hundred page family saga where we have multiple generations to get to know them. Life or death, here and now, what’s at stake and why do we care? Those must hit the reader hard and fast in a novella. And not with long-winded backstory! Begin with a scene that puts it all on the line in a big way for the characters you’re introducing and your reader will immediately care. The best short stories are more character driven than plot driven simply because too much plot will overwhelm and dilute. Remember, concentration not saturation. A short story is no place to decide to throw everything but the kitchen sink at your readers.

And that brings us to my final secret: hook

Hook can be defined as the reason to read your story that you give editors, publishers or readers. It’s often called high concept, but you can also think of it as concentrated and intense. Most of the time you try to express your hook in a sentence or two that can be shared in a query letter or in an elevator at Nationals.

I believe that a good short story is a 10k or 20k or 40k hook from start to finish. If you write so that every moment is important, full of impact and vital to the reader, they can’t turn away and you’ll have discovered the secret to writing short fiction that sells.

Barbara J. Hancock has a passion for short stories and novellas. Since her first sale to Silhouette Nocturne Bites in 2008, she has gone on to sell six other novellas including her current Jacqueline Barbary release, Savage Sanctuary, a paranormal m/m erotic romance with Carina Press and her upcoming Jacqueline Barbary release, Perfect Storm, a paranormal m/m/f with Loose Id. She also has two full length novels with Samhain Publishing and Loose Id as well as an upcoming full length release with Samhain.

To learn more about Barbara’s books, please visit www.barbarajhancock.com or www.jacquelinebarbary.com


Dillon has walked the night, unforgiven, for one hundred and fifty years. Jade has hunted others like him her entire life. He’s been through hell more than once since he became a vampire, but real damnation is being a monster who craves a special woman’s trust.  

Jade deals in death and darkness, but only her kiss can redeem the vampire…and only he can set her spirit free.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I've never written anything shorter than a novel and have always wondered how. I started a few times, but then 80,000-words later...LOL.

Thanks for this. Very helpful! Have a great day.

Anonymous said...

nice to know you, and glad to find such a good artical!......................................................................

Anonymous said...