Jan 252018
 

Short stories are making a comeback. This is no doubt due to the advent of ebooks and self-publishing. And although I personally rather read longer stories, I thought it a good idea to try writing a short story myself. Once finished it would be a good marketing tool, as free short stories are often used as reader magnets for a mailing list sign-up.

And how hard can it be to write a short story? It’s usually not more than 15,000 words and it can be a spin-off or part of an ongoing series, meaning that your characters and world are already developed. Easy peasy, or not?

I started writing my short story in November 2016 and wrote an optimistic blog post about it. Now 14 months later, the short story still isn’t written. Why not? Because I discovered that writing a short story is exactly the same thing as writing a long story, with the difference that it’s even faster paced.

Structure
Structure is very important in the writing of a good story. And as it turns out, it doesn’t matter if this story is 8k or 80K in length.
I’m a plotter, so I love structure, be even I didn’t realise that it was an integral part of a short story as well. So when I started writing the short story in 2016, it didn’t feel right and I abandoned it for more urgent projects. But last December I realise that having a short story as reader magnet was now the priority, so more than a year after I started it, I decided to revisit my short story.

Standalone
Not only did I need to come up with a proper structure for it, I also wanted to fit it within the existing set-up for my series. For although it is a standalone story which can be read, or not read, without influencing or losing track of the rest of the series, I did want those fans who took the time to read it, get that same feeling they have when they read my 80K books.

I even wanted those loyal fans to find hidden Easter eggs, little things that hint towards upcoming books, but also slightly look back at the books that came before. Things that won’t matter if you don’t read them, but give this extra dimension to the series as a whole for those who recognise them.

Writing
It took me six weeks to come up with a proper plot and structure and last Sunday, I started to write. It’s so much fun ‘being back’ in Milbury and follow the adventures of Paddy and Vinnie. And although not a full blow ‘murder’ mystery, there is a mystery for Paddy to solve.

Keeping it short
My biggest challenge now is to keep the story moving forward. As I ‘only’ have 4000 words for each of the four acts, it’s vital to keep only those bits that keep the pace in the story. Not that easy as this morning I discovered that I had already written 4000 words for the 2nd act, while there are still very important plot points to write about.

Where I normally have about 20K words for each act, I now need to be very strict and cull all those things that aren’t moving the story along.
I’m starting to realise that writing a short story is a craft, just like writing a full-length story is. It’s a craft that I will have to keep practising, to perfect it.

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If all goes according to plan the first draft of Peanuts! the 16K short story will be finished before the end of January and ready to go to my editor on the 1st of February.

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Oct 152016
 

tomboySTORY ENGINEERING – Mastering the 6 core competencies of successful writing
By Larry Brooks

While maybe not entirely my how-to-write-bible, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks is one of my favourite books on the subject of fiction writing, and I learned a lot from it.

Story Engineering is a plotters dream. In six topics Brooks takes the writer past the most important parts of how to set up a story. He calls them the Six Core Competencies.

  1. Concept
  2. Character
  3. Theme
  4. Story Structure
  5. Scene Execution
  6. Writing Voice

While not every writer is a plotter, I firmly believe that more writers could benefit from a bit more knowledge about story structure and character building. If not just for the benefit of the story (it will have a better flow), but also for the speed of creating and writing it.

Being a rather structured and organised person myself, I found the in-depth chapter on Story Structure in Brooks’ book the most helpful. I now live by the 4-Act structure and try to write the precise amount of words to end up with equal quarters in my books, interspersing plot and pinch points at the right places.
I must confess I even check other people’s books when I read them, to see if they have their plot points in the right places…

Another very helpful chapter was Brooks’ explanation of Character, where I learned that to create interesting heroes and bad guys, you simply need to give them three dimensions; what they look like, how they think and what made them what they are today, also known as backstory.
I had a very enjoyable time setting up the main characters for my Jacob Hick Murder Mysteries, thinking up things that could have happened to them in the past. Things that likely never make it on to the page, but that hopefully have created three-dimensional characters.

While Brooks’ chapters are very in-depth and full of information, he does have a bit of a tendency to waffle on about baseball in his examples. But it’s easy to read past that and take out whatever you find the most helpful.

I recommend Story Engineering to anyone who wants to or has written fiction, whether they are plotters or pantsers. I know that the confirmed pantser will scream at the thought of having to structure their thoughts and writing, but if you only think you’re leaning that way, it might well be worth it to test Brooks’ methods. You might even come to the conclusion that you’re actually <gasp> a plotter.

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