Being a Better Writer: Keeping a Short Story Short

Hello readers! Welcome back after a spectacular Life, The Universe, and Everything writing convention! I hope you were able to attend, or if not, that you’ll be checking their youtube channel to see what’s posted as they upload panel recordings! The experience was incredible!

It was not without risks, however. Such as the dreaded “con crud” (aka you’ve just been exposed to around a dozen different colds and you’re low on sleep), so today’s post is going to be a little shorter than normal. No news, possibly some flat-brained typos, but I’m getting it done! So then, let’s talk about keeping your short story short.

This was a topic that actually came up in one of the LTUE panels I was on, in a roundabout way. An audience member asked about keeping short stories short stories, and said that they’d been told the best way to do it was to think of a short story as either the first or final chapter of a story. In other words, they explained, it either set up a beginning, or tied off an ending.

That’s actually a pretty good way to think of it, provided you’re thinking of a story where everything that can come before is capable of getting squeezed into that one chapter (though yes, that’s more important for a story that’s the “end” of something than the beginning, as one sets up and the other ties together).

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Being a Better Writer: Getting by on as Little Detail as Possible

Hello there readers! Welcome back to Being a Better Writer! I hope you’ve all had a great weekend, got some fun reading done. I certainly did. I made a jaunt to my local library, picked up, and have already read through one of the books I knew I needed to bring up at one of my panels at LTUE. Which is a good segue into some quick news reminders about LTUE. It’s almost upon us, people! In fact, it’s just over a week away! So you’re pretty much at the last chance grab your registration in advance! If you don’t now, you’d best be prepared to pay your way in at the door!

Once you’re there, though, you’ll have a veritable smorgasbord of writing advice and guidance available to you from hundreds of panels, all of which you can see in a grid here (PDF warning; it’ll likely download on a mobile). By the way, some of those panels? I’m on them! So swing by if you’re at LTUE, as they’re some excellent panels on excellent writing topics!

Now, with the LTUE reminder taken care of, let’s get down to business with today’s post. Today I wanted to talk about getting by on as little detail as possible. Or, from my perspective, one of the core components of a short story.

Okay, I realize that might sound a bit strange to some of you. And others might be nodding. Or wondering about other core components of short stories, which there definitely are a few of (for example, a really core one is a story that fits inside a short … which is another topic for another time).

But getting by on as little detail as possible is key for keeping a short story, well, short. See, it’s one thing in a book to have a character come into a setting and take a quick look around it, noting who is present and who’s speaking to who, or perhaps what the setting itself looks like. After all, with a traditional book you’ve got hundreds of pages waiting to be filled, so spending a hundred words establishing a setting for the next few pages? Not such a big deal. In fact, it’s expected.

For a short story, however, where you’re limited in both space and wordcount, taking those hundred words to describe a setting or a scene? Suddenly they’re a much larger blow against the “budget” of space you have to work with. And if you go ahead and write as though you have all the space available to you as one normally would, upon reaching the end you might find that your “short story,” initially directed to be around a few-thousand words, is now nearing novella size.

Whoops.

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Submission Call for Twilight Tales!

No. Not that Twilight. But rather this one!

Those who’ve been following the site for a while may recall that last year I worked on a short story for the LTUE benefit anthology A Dragon and Her Girl, which will be their 2019 release. LTUE being Life, the Universe, and Everything, an awesome (if not the most awesome) convention for writers, authors, and everything Sci-Fi and Fantasy, and the benefit anthology being a short story collection where the sales go to keeping the costs of the con down for students and other young aspiring writers.

Right right. Well, the call for this year’s submissions to be part of the LTUE benefit anthology are now open, and will be through August 15th! And they’re asking for light horror stories.

Me? I don’t have time right now. I’ve already got way too many projects on my plate on top of life issues to keep track of. But what about you?

Yes, you! That’s right! You! Sitting/standing there reading this!

Look, I know who my fans are. And I’ve seen some of your work. And I know that you guys are talented. I also know that for every fan whose work I’ve seen online or had the fortune to read, there are probably a dozen more who are here following Being a Better Writer, dutifully working on improving their craft and looking for their next challenge or chance to shine.

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Human Resource – A Free Short Story!

All right, guys, a bit of a warning with this one. It’s … dark. Very dark, especially if you stop to think about it. And grim.

Worse still, it’s not entirely untrue.

A bit of background: I wrote this story after my second frustrating workplace injury and experience dealing with Worker’s Comp and my part-time job’s Human Resources department. If you’re interested in hearing the details about that, you can check out this post here, which is all about how I acquired the injury and the recover I underwent. But the short of it is that within days I was already feeling like I had when I’d had my knee injury. In other words, very much like my company just wanted to practice horse medicine and shove everything under the rug.

In my frustrations, I ended up writing this short to blow off a little steam. It’s dark. It’s grim. And, worst of all, it’s actually pretty true, and like most good fiction, that makes it all the more alarming.

The microphone monitoring tech? That’s real. A certain massive mega-conglomerate retailer patented it last year and has already started rolling it out into stores. It monitors all employees at all times. And yes, they do warn that ‘certain problem words’ can trigger an automatic, computer-driven firing. Boop, a text to your phone, go home, you’re done here.

That’s what scariest about this story: It’s really not that far off. The tech involved here is very real, and already being rolled into the workplace much in the same way you see it in this story. It’s just all in one package, and seeing the sudden jump from where we are now to where we may be in five, ten years really does seem jarring, compared to coming in to a new bit or piece every day.

Am I worried we might go as far as this story? Well … in a way, yes. We were once already there, if you know your history of what jobs used to be like before labor laws were put in place.

But I’ll stop waxing on it now. You’re here to read a story. So, without further ado, I present to you Human Resource. Enjoy!

And try not to let it depress you too much. I can tell you it was therapeutic to write.


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Unusual Events’ First Story is Done

Tonight, I finished the alpha of what will be hopefully the longest story in my in-progress story collection, Unusual Events. It turned out quite a bit longer than I expected, graduating quickly from a long short story of 10,000 to 11,000 words and becoming a 37,000 word novella—longer than my first published work, One Drink. As a result, I think I’ll be sticking in near the back of the book.

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