Short Story Blues

I have a mental block with short stories. I know this because I’m trying to write one. Or two. Or three. Ideas? Oh yeah, I have ideas out the wazoo. (What is a wazoo?) But it seems such a waste to use these ideas on a short story.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always looked at short fiction as the poor stepchild of the novel. Short fiction is written by people who can’t write novels, I always thought.

Now I’ve changed my mind. Short fiction is written by writers far more brilliant than me, who can condense complex plots into 4,000 words with precision and beauty, while I can’t seem to write anything in fewer than 90,000 words.

I also don’t READ short fiction, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe I need to study the craft of short stories.

I need help, people. Tips? Good short story anthologies to check out?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate’s Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man’s Curse; Black Diamond).

3 thoughts on “Short Story Blues

  1. Short stories themselves have never really done it for me education-wise. I finally got a clear picture of how a short erotic story could work when I read my critique partner’s short DINING IN (by Elise Logan, pubbed by Freya’s Bower).

    In format, DINING IN is pretty brilliant – you have two people, a situation, and a punch line at the end, with lots of hot sex in the middle that leads to a grin at the punch line.

    The tips I usually offer people who ask me are: start w/ people who know each other or who aren’t going to put up much resistance to being thrown together; your plot should be resolution of A Situation, not journey through a long, involved sequence; and your end doesn’t have to involve love and marriage (for romance).

    Also: don’t dwell on the setting and try to stick to one viewpoint character.

    Good luck. You might check out WRITING THE SHORT STORY: A HANDS-ON WORKSHOP by Jack Bickham, which has been on my keeper shelf since 1999.

  2. I’ve written both, and enjoy both. The nice thing about a short story or a novella is more immediate gratification (for both the writer and the reader).

    The above readers’ suggestions were great. I’ve had luck with both characters’ viewpoints. The key is to really narrow the focus/setting/plot/time. You can really only explore one conflict. And you don’t have a lot of time/space for secondary characters. Starting with characters who know each other makes it easier, for sure, but you can also start with strangers if you throw them into a situation where they’re stuck with each other (I trapped mine in a pitch-black elevator during a power outage…).

    Good luck! And congrats on your books!

  3. Thanks, Laura and Emily! Good tips. I realized I was thinking too “big,” as I would with a novel. Once I focused on two characters and a single arc, I actually settled in and started a story yesterday. Now, whether or not it’s a GOOD story is a topic for another day–LOL.