Thursday, January 07, 2010

On Writing Short Stories

I’m hoping by the end of this week that I’ll have my computer back and I can work on my big projects: editing Discovery and writing Gapman. In the meantime, however, I thought I’d share with you some thoughts about smaller writing projects.

Most of you know that I've had worlds develop from short stories. My DragonEye, PI universe grew from a short story “DragonEye, PI” in Firestorm of Dragons, and my first novel, Magic, Mensa and Mayhem came from a story series I wrote as a lark for a Mensa newsletter. The publisher for Damnation Books asked me if I would consider writing a novel based on the characters in my short story “Wokking Dead” in The Zombie Cookbook. Short stories are a fun and fast way to explore new characters and worlds.

Short stories also help me expand the worlds I already write in. A lot of writing classes and books often suggest you ask questions, fill out forms or do research to build your worlds. I teach that myself in my worldbuilding class. However, I often find that some of my best insights into my worlds come when the characters are telling me their stories. In December, I wrote a story where Vern encountered an old dragon friend who has been bespelled into human form. I intended “Giselle” to be a straightforward mystery of about 3000 words as Vern tried to figure out who had cursed his friend. However, Vern began remembering his life as a dragon before St. George’s spell. In following his memories, I learned how the dragons of Faerie gathered, hunted and danced. I discovered what they think of the human race and how their attitudes changes as they grew. I also discovered a secret nemesis for Vern. Even he doesn’t realize it yet, and it may be a couple more books before this nemesis shows up, but I know it and its motivations.

Short stories can also give you insight into larger projects you’re working on. As many of you know, I’m still exploring an overall evil scheme for Gapman. In part, I’m discovering that superhero stories are thin on this, so I’m not getting a lot of ideas in my research. However, I just wrote a short mystery concerning Police Captain Santry. I’d promised my readers a romance for Valentine’s Day, but the crusty police chief told me one about his ex wife instead. I guess he needed closure, so that’s what he gets, literally and literarily. In the process, I learned that his ex, an actress in her 40s, played a supporting role in a scandalous anti-Faerie movie called Full Exposure. This morning, it occurred to me that my villain is the author of the novel! Now I need to decide exactly how this fits in, but I think we’ll be seeing prejudice, religious intolerance and fear on both sides of the Gap.

Even more, I not only ended up with a very interesting story, but I have valuable background for Santry’s real love story, which I will tell in Damsels and Knights, the book after Gapman. Lesson here: Don’t fight with your characters! If you’re interested in reading the story, go register on the DragonEye, PI website: “Closure” is a Valentine’s Day gift to my faithful followers.

Which brings me to the last reason for writing short stories: building a readership. I have stories in anthologies and magazines, and if people like the story, they can see my website on the bio, go there, see the stories and books for sale, and register for the newsletter. Those that already follow get a more steady diet of DragonEye because the stories come much faster than the books. They get entertainment; I keep my world in their mind; everybody wins.

I enjoy writing short stories. They give me a chance to learn about my characters in ways a longer work can’t accommodate, I get the thrill of accomplishment a little faster, and I always come away with something valuable both for me and for my readers. The next time one of your characters wants to give you a side-story, or you come up with an idea that isn’t big enough for a novel, try writing a short. I think you’ll find it worth your time.

1 comment:

Walt said...

That's pretty good advice, Karina. I know in my own case, the Imperial Erin Cycle is growing that way. Often, I have to stop and write down a bit of history to explain to myself why a particular event happened. At the moment, I've got bits and pieces scattered over the timeline. Interestingly, they are beginning to grow together into what looks like a whole (subconsciousness prewriting in the background?). Of course, when several volumes of the collected stories win their Hugos, I'll have the the future history ready for the "Imperial Erin Companion."

Seriously, I think the reason I'm writing short stories is that I start at the beginning, go through to the end, and stop--there just ain't anymore story.