I’ve had several people ask me how I write short. After talking it over with some friends, I decided to blog about what works for me.
Here we go. 😉
IS IT A NOVELLA?
Not all stories are built to be short. Keep this in mind. Know when something should be a full or maybe a secondary story that mirrors/foils one of your full-lengths.
Don’t be stubborn about this. Know when to back away from something as “short” or you’ll find yourself trying to cram a fuller story into a short word count.
This happened with my next two Caitie books. That’s why they’ve been put on the back burner. They’re getting some therapy and then we’ll work things out. The new, re-thought versions will most likely be category length.
HOW BIG IS THE PLOT?
This is a little different. Sometimes the story is a short, but you keep growing the plot with add-ons.
Stop that. Back away. Take notes for fun, shiny, plot bunnies for somewhere else. Keep the plot a manageable size.
THERE’S ONLY ONE PLOT
And make sure there’s only one. Don’t try to find love, rescue the farm, find the cattle rustlers, stop a murder, repair the relationship with her mother, heal old wounds, and survive the natural disaster.
Sure, in Romance “find love” might be what happens during the plot, but pick one and stick with it.
ALL CHARACTERS LEAD TO THAT PLOT
Limit the number of characters to those who only directly impact the MC(s) and the plot. If you have a bunch of walk-ons, see if you can shift their roles to the Impact Characters. For those you can’t, see if you can create one small role to fill all those spots.
You’ll save word count, make the transitions smoother, force your reader to memorize fewer people and basically just streamline the read.
CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS MIRROR/FOIL THE PLOT
Find a way to flesh out the characters enough for the story you want to tell without additional layering and motivational-backstory we’d typically do. No one expects to get to know everything about someone in a short time period, so keep focused on a couple key attributes instead of growing them to someone really well-rounded. And, make sure all the attributes feed directly into the story/relationship.
Does he care for hurt baby deer on the weekend? Great! Does it change how we see him or something that happens in the story? No. Then cut it.
Keep events to a few places – and the fewer the better. Not only does it give the reader a strong foundation in place, but it also saves you from describing new places over and over again.
CONFLICT SHOULD DOVETAIL VERY CLEARLY
I know this feels obvious because conflict should always dovetail – that’s what makes it conflict. But for a short, it needs to be very A<>B instead of A<……….>B.
So instead of: SHE needs to win class president so she can add it to her transcripts so that she can bump up to a different level of colleges so she can get out of her abusive home WHILE HE wants to be more popular so he wants to win class president… come at it at a more direct level.
SHE needs to win class president to put a stop to the unfair student parking situation. HE wants to win because he currently has the best parking spot and doesn’t want to lose it.
Does that one sound boring? Sure. But could we make HOW they go to war over this fun? Absolutely. And we’ve probably just cut about 20k words.
KEEP THE MAIN PLAYERS ON THE PAGE
The main players should be on the page as much as possible so both their arcs move forward at about the same pace.
Yes, I have my hero off the page in all of my shorts since they’re 1st person POV, but only for things that move her forward where he doesn’t need to.
Which brings us to…
HAVE ONE OF THEM KNOW
A lot of the time having one of the characters “know” can short cut a lot of the re-explaining/examining/learning/etc that goes on in full-length… most of which we don’t even notice because it feels organic.
If one character knows (example: in It’s in His Kiss Ben knows he wants Jenna right away) then we don’t have to have the growth of attraction from him. We just need the Win Her Over. It’s Jenna who needed a full arc to not only be won over, but to accept that she was attractive and worthy from all her time being bullied by her friend.
This doesn’t only work with the relational. Play around with levels of knowledge for streamlining.
Let’s be honest, some times our voice is our own worst enemy. If you write long sentences as part of your natural voice and like to write sweeping prose… maybe going short isn’t for you. Or maybe you need to learn to cut the heck out of your work. But, I just cut a paragraph from the last section by reworking my long-windedness.
There’s a lot of that in writing short.
SHOULD EVERYONE LISTEN TO ME?
Yes. Of course! Please send a check to…
Okay, maybe not. 😉
But, these are what work for me. I’ve enjoyed writing my shorts and plan to do more in the future. Standard disclaimer: YMMV.
Also, all writers work differently, have different goals and priorities, and want to tell different stories. What works for you OR what have you read in a short that made you go, OH! That was good! 😉