My guest today is E.B. Davis, short story author and blogger on Writers Who Kill.
I’m always amazed when writers say that it’s harder for them to write a short story than it is to write a novel. To me, a short story plot is the basis for a novel, and learning to write a short story is the basis for learning to write a novel. Sounds logical—and it is.
A short story must contain only one plot. The plot is structured in three parts. The beginning presents the problem. The middle provides pivotal information that drives the plot to the end, in which the writer solves the problem—sometimes cleverly in a twist. The writer must accomplish this using a few, carefully chosen words. Once mastered, a short story can be expanded into a novel. But in its basic structure, there is no difference between the short story and the novel.
A novel must present a unique situation or problem in its beginning while introducing the main characters, the setting, perhaps suggesting a subplot and, nearing the end of the beginning, add an interesting complication. The middle must drive the plot, providing the start of the main character’s transformation, following complications and furthering subplots, which complement the main plot. Eliminating red herrings decreases the possible suspects, and the mysterious puzzle forms a logical path taking the main character to the conclusion while suspense builds. The ending solves the mystery while tying up the loose ends of the complications and the subplots, which are solved or are used to provide an avenue to the sequel. In different genres, the elements may vary, but the structure remains the same.
Just because a novel is longer doesn’t mean word choice need be any less critical. Every piece of prose and dialogue must snap off the page. Waxing poetic doesn’t cut it. Too many novels contain flabby writing. Learning to write a short story disciplines a writer to be concise. Word smithing is a wonderful art, but it must have aim and hit the target.
In short, short stories are the prototype of novels, which expand the parameters of the short story in breadth and depth. By word count necessity, short stories are limited, concise and singular.
I laugh at myself when reviewing my critiqued work. My partners point out that I jump from point A to D without showing the steps because I tend to write too condensed, but I contend, better to risk a non sequitur than write ad nausea without coming to the point. A novel is not a lengthy conversation, with a captive audience. If it bogs down, readers quit reading.
In a short story I wrote, “Lucky in Death,” about a murderous grandmother who goes back to work helping her family’s financial struggle, soon to be published in a SinC Chesapeake Chapter anthology titled, Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder, a reviewer questioned the grandmother’s necessity of going back to work because of the insurance. What insurance? In the story, I made no mention of insurance, and because I hadn’t, it didn’t exist. The reviewer assumed there had to be insurance. Not always. Many people don’t have life insurance. Should I have addressed her comment? No. Insurance was outside of the story. I had no need to address an issue that didn’t exist. Don’t be persuaded to expand a short story where it need not go.
I challenge you to do a backward exercise. Write a short story using your novel’s main character and plot. See if you can find your novel’s essence by deconstruction. Formulate a finely honed short story based on your main plot. I bet you’ll learn more about your novel than your critique group’s feedback. Then go further—what is your log line?
Beach author/bum E. B. Davis writes short stories and novels in the mystery genre. When she is not writing or blogging at http://writerwhokill.blogspot.com, she sleeps on the beach, the setting for many of her stories. She is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, Sisters in Crime and its Guppy and
subchapters. A Shaker of Margaritas: Hot Flash Mommas contains her short story, “Implicated by a Phrase.” “Daddy’s Little Girl,” can be found at: http://voicesfromthegarage.com/story/daddys-little-girl. This short story provides the basis of her paranormal romantic novel in progress, TOASTING FEAR. A Shaker of Margaritas: Cougars on the Prowl presents her romantic short, “Rock the Cradle.” In 2012, the SinC Chesapeake Chapter’s anthology titled, Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder, will present “Lucky in Death” and Fishnets, a Guppy anthology will include “The Runaway.” Chesapeake