Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Time For A Quick Thrill?

By Jenny Hilborne

I don’t what you were expecting, but I’m talking about short stories. How popular are they? 

Until recently, I’d never been much of a fan, the main reason being there’s not enough story to become vested in the characters. The few I’d tried to read were poorly developed and left me cold. I imagined it must be harder to write a short than to write a novel; for me it would be like attempting a sprint when I’m a long distance runner. I write full-length novels, where I have pages and pages to develop my plots and characters.

Recently, a story idea popped into my head, a simple concept I didn’t think I could develop into a full novel, but certainly one I couldn't let go, and thought I turn into a short story. Except, I can’t write short stories, or so I thought. Questions immediately arose: how short should it be? What formula, if any, do I have to follow? Do the same rules apply to a short as in a novel? I tasked myself to write the thing, and worry about the “rules” later, if at all. To help the creative process, I poured myself a large glass of wine – it served a secondary purpose in that I could drown my sorrow if I sucked.

Well, color me converted. I loved writing the short, False Pretense, I enjoyed the challenge in attempting a new style, and found it an incredibly liberating exercise, free from the restrictions of writing a full-length novel. For starters, it took me five hours to complete instead of a year. I drank to that (knew the wine would come in handy). I had one simple story line and no complex sub-plots to weave in; few characters; a much shorter timeframe for the course of the events, and discovered I had the makings of a character I could later use in a novel.

I learned a few things. Shorts are a break from routine and a good exercise, a challenge for a writer to try something new, especially new writers daunted by writing a full-length novel and unsure if they have enough material. A short is a quick and inexpensive way to wet a reader’s appetite for a new author.

I’m sure I broke some rules when I wrote my short, but I don’t think it matters. I have a new respect for shorts, and will seek them out to read. Perfect for a busy schedule.

What’s your take on shorts?


  1. Hi Jenny,
    I've written several short stories over the years. In fact, that's where the original concept for the character in my Hawaiian mystery came about. Short stories are a great process for writers to go through and, in a way, are kind of like cross-training. I don't know when I'll do my next one, but when the muse plops down in front of me and tells me to do it, I guess I'll comply!

  2. I love to read short stories and never thought I could write one. But I did, and I enjoyed it. But I used a character I'd already established in one of my Detective Jackson novels. I hope to write another short this summer before I start my next novel. But, truthfully, they'll never be a priority.

  3. I rarely read short stories as I like to sink into a good novel and have it entertain me night after night, without having to find another one and get to know new characters again really soon. But at Thrillerfest I bought the anthology, Love is Murder, edited by Sandra Brown, with short stories by Lee Child, Brenda Novak, William Bernhardt, Allison Brennan, Robert Browne, JT Ellison, and others. I think I'll read a few of the stories next time I'm between novels.

    And I downloaded your short story, False Pretense a few days ago from Amazon, Jenny, so I'll start with that one!

    Seems like a good way to get a flavor for someone's writing style, too.

  4. By the way, Jenny, Terry and LJ, and other short story writers, do you know about Amazon's Kindle Singles program? You can apply, and if they approve of your short story, you get the 70% even if you price it below $2.99.

  5. I enjoy writing short stories for the very reason you mentioned, Jenny… they are finished fast!

    As far as reading them? I have to say the answer is generally no. I think the idea is to get a 'sample' of a writer's style, but I don't think you can judge what a fully developed novel might feel like by reading a short.

    I was just published in an anthology, MS. ADVENTURES IN TRAVEL, and although that was kind of fun, I had less than a day to come up with an idea and submit it.

  6. I didn't know about the Singles program, Jodie. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Just google "Kindle Singles", Jenny. Nice to be able to make 70% when you price something under $2.99, as normally that only qualifies for 35%. But you have to apply first and get accepted. Let me know how it goes! I'd try it for my e-booklet, but it seems it's mainly only for fiction.

  8. I wrote and published my first story ever this year. It sat on my desktop for the longest time because quite frankly I was worried whether it was publishable. Finally a friend asked to read it. When she finished, she said, "You're kidding me, right? You've been sitting on this thing for two years? You have to publish this." So I did.

    Looking back, I think the hesitancy centered more around my being so unfamiliar with this form. I've never spent much time reading them (or writing them). What I learned was that there is great skill involved in writing them. You've got a such a limited amount of time to tell your story. You can't waste words and you must have a tight arc. Easier to do in a novel. In a short story--not so much. They're great practice.

  9. I'm trying to get my novels published, but in the meantime, about six of my short stories have been published. I've always loved short stories. I'm an O. Henry and Poe fan so I appreciate them.

    I think writing shorts is a great way to learn the lesson of "not a gratuitous word." While character development can be limited, shorts provide the medium to get the most bang for your buck--readers can know your character using a few words.

    I'm glad to hear that you wrote one. It also provides a few writing credentials and show your writing before you land that publisher or agent.


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