I’m very excited to be part of this anthology series. I’ll be in good company with authors including Jaine Fenn, Emma Coleman, and Teika Marija Smits. They are the first three authors in the series, with more to come.
To learn more about this series, check out this wonderful book trailer by Martin Sketchley:
Short Stories vs. Novels
I might be better known as a novelist but I started out in short stories. I learned my craft writing to shorter lengths. While at the beginning my short stories were more like first chapters — which is how eventually The Sisters Mederos and Fog Season came into existence — eventually I learned how to structure a story within a framework so that each story had a defined beginning, middle, and end.
A short story is not simply a condensed novel, nor is a novel an elongated short story. While structure varies, a short story has a definite shape and conclusion. This is why, I think, that short stories are a better fit for a film adaptation than most novels, because screenplays have a defined structure and shape too. It’s not that films can’t be epic and long, but shorts share more in common with scripts than novels do.
Elements of short stories
Shorts have certain features. These aren’t rules, per se, as in the hands of any author, these features can be mixed and matched in different combinations.
- A defined idea. A short story generally covers one main idea. In science fiction that is often a what if? concept, but it can be anything. One of my favorite short stories of all time is Chris Adrian’s “A Tiny Feast.” What if a modern child is stolen by fairies?
- A focused series of events. Short stories can be huge in scope but are limited in space, so they keep the things that happen to a minimum. “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. Le Guin has vast implications, but it’s narrow, focal point ends up — well, where it ends up, a single focused beam of light on a single individual.
- An ending. Short stories don’t leave unfinished business — unless the unfinished business is the focus. There are no open endings, no room for sequels. The ending may be a twist, it may go back to the beginning, or it may resolve in another unexpected but entirely possible in the world of the story sort of way, but there’s always an ending.
- Setups and payoffs. Chekhov’s gun states that a gun on the mantel in the first act must be fired in the third. Imagery, dialog, characters, location, movement, motivation — all of these elements must come together at the end, with no last-minute introduction of something new. Everything in the world of the story should be used by the end.
Elements of novels
Although it may seem like the most important feature of a novel is its length, that’s not really true. Similarly, a novel isn’t defined by its grand cast of characters or locations, or ideas. There are small, focused novels out there.
- Scope. A novel is broad in the way a short story is not. It can take a focused idea — a what if — and put it in a greater context.
- Characters. A novel has the space to explore different characters and their motivations and actions. A novelist can put their main character in play, and have them interact with all the characters in the book.
- Exploration. There’s room for exploration in a novel. Even novelists who outline first can expand on their ideas within a novel.
- Open ended. Even novels that don’t necessarily have sequels can be more open-ended than stories. Having said that, a novel like a short story should feel complete. There’s just more scope in the way a reader closes the book.
My Short Stories
My stories are a pretty eclectic bunch. My science fiction short stories include “Spider,” “Murder on the Hohmann,” and “Joe Fledge’s Jump.” My fantasy shorts include “A Prayer for Captain La Hire” and “Theo Ballinchard and the Oranges of Possibility.” And I write horror too — “Caro Comes Home” and “The Star Seed Witches Meet at Midnight.”
Some of them start with a what if or an idea. What if there was a murder on a space vessel traveling between Mars and Earth? What if humans evolve to live in hard vacuum?
Some of them start with a vibe: can a monster love? (“Caro Comes Home”)
Some of them start with an opening line. Theo Ballinchard’s complicated opening paragraph sprang fully formed into the world, and the rest of the story poured out.
Creating a Short Story Collection
Not everything went in. That’s the first thing to know. My very first sale, “The Warlord and the Princess,” didn’t make the cut. I love that story. I learned so much from writing it. I love the whole pulp feel of it. The characters, the plot, the resolution — I lived and dreamed that story. Maybe I’ll re-publish it on the blog — it was one of the first posts that I created. But it had its time.
There were a number of stories like that. “Memories of Gravity,” which was part of the “Spider”/”Murder on the Hohmann” world, also didn’t make it in. I love that story. I wanted to write a science fiction gothic romance and by golly I did. It’s available in the Mammoth Book of Futuristic Romance and it’s well worth the read. I feel like I channeled Victoria Holt the whole way through.
“More to Glory” was one of those stories that made me so happy when I wrote it. It landed in the Low Port anthology, and I am so proud of it. (And hey, it might be a collector’s item!)
Maybe they will make it in the next collection.
Then there was the matter of putting the stories in order. I knew what I wanted to end on, and I knew what I wanted to begin with. I organized and ordered the stories in a way that felt right to me, like putting together a puzzle. The editor may have other ideas, but the point is, one doesn’t simply throw a collection together.
And finally, the title of the collection — I’m not sure. What do you all think? Let me know in the comments.