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Pardon the Tumbleweeds

March 3, 2013

Image courtesy Chris Dodutch @ BigStock.comDon’t mind me, I’ll just clear away these tumbleweeds that are blowing over the scenic route. I’m still writing, but it seems I took on too much again and left the blog to gather dust for a while.

What is it this time, you ask?

I’m writing a short story! Well, actually it’s done now and awaiting revision.

Usually not a big deal, as sometimes short stories ambush me and I bash them out in one big two thousand word rush to get them out of my head and onto the page. But in this case I wanted to try to get it right.

Holly Lisle, along with the forum moderators at the revision course I’m currently plodding through is putting together an anthology of stories by her students. Not only that, but there are prizes! Anyone who has taken a Holly Lisle course, from the Plot Clinic (short courses) to the How To Revise Your Novel course is eligible, so if you’re in that category I’m looking at you! The stories must be less than 2500 words long and the anthology even has a theme: Adventures in Creativity.

The thing is, I don’t really know how to write a short story. I write really, really long ones …

Image courtesy of ilker @ Stock.xchngSo I took the same approach I always do and threw up my hands and just started writing. I wrote three hundred words setting the scene for my idea, which was: What if a mysterious character who goes by the name of Dr. M were able to dispense inspiration and ideas, and what if he made house calls? I knew that I was saving what ‘M’ stands for until the very end of the story. I’ll give you a clue though: It’s very hard to pronounce.

I set up the main character and what she is facing, but did it in the form of a narrative. Then I stopped writing, and waited, turning the idea over in my head for a day, then sat down to write again. The idea grew.

A cat wandered onto the set. The name of the cat became an important turning point in the story.

I wrote four hundred more words and put the story away.

Dr. M changed from a man to a woman. She carried a suitcase full of feathers and a metal box marked Tea.Image courtesy of gyvulius @ stock.xchn

Four hundred words later, my main character was a costume designer at a fancy garden party.

Her husband arrived.

I did this for a few days in a row and by the time I was at fifteen hundred words, my ending came into focus. Four hundred more words and I summarized the rest of the story in eight or so sentences. I wanted to pace myself but from there a quick seven hundred fifty word session and I was done!

The coolest thing had to be looking down at my Scrivener word count and seeing that my story had skidded to a halt at 2460 words, forty words below the upper limit of 2500 words! Since the entries are paid in proportion to word count, and being of the wordy persuasion, I had decided to push that envelope as far as I could.

The beginning doesn’t quite match the end anymore, but that’s what revision is for and fortunately, I know a bit about how to do that. I have until March 30 to get that in. Wish me luck!

How do you approach writing a short story? Do your beginnings match your endings?

And, did I give too much of my story away?

Images courtesy Chris DoDutch @, ilker  and ‘gyvulius’ @ Stock.xchng

  1. March 3, 2013 4:15 pm

    The beginning and the end match, but I can’t seem to pare the idea down to a small size. I’m more of a novelish kind of person.

    • March 3, 2013 7:29 pm

      So am I!
      It took a few tries to get a feel for it, but the concept has to be very small compared to a novel. I’m hoping it still makes sense to my intrepid readers!

  2. March 3, 2013 5:08 pm

    I love that she has a suitcase full of feathers and a metal box marked tea, I want those things! haha I’m intrigued. Thanks for sharing this, I wouldn’t have known about the anthology otherwise…I miss the forums, I should definitely visit them more…in a non-procrastinating kind of way of course 😀

    • March 3, 2013 7:31 pm

      The forums aren’t nearly as lively as they once were, I’m afraid. (which is part of the reason this blog fills that void.) I hope that changes though!
      I’m glad you like my tidbits! These are the parts that will most likely stick after my mini-revision. 🙂

  3. March 3, 2013 5:19 pm

    Good luck with the anthology contest. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for you 🙂

    It appears my approach for writing a short story to just take the seed of an idea and jump in, start writing, and see what happens. Somehow they just kinda end up as passable first drafts, although since they all need revision, they might be less passable than I think. But they exist, and that’s the important thing, if I understand the purpose of first drafts correctly.

    • March 3, 2013 7:34 pm

      Thanks, Mike!
      Sounds like you work very similarly to myself. 🙂 I didn’t know a short story could be ‘pantsed’ and since I’m very much a discovery writer, finding a way to do that has been something of a breakthrough for me.
      I think revision is the key here, and I’m excited to put it into action on this little number. 🙂

  4. March 3, 2013 5:21 pm

    Congrats on the short! I love stretching the writerly wings to embrace new challenges. And I’d totally missed this anthology, so thanks for the shoutout! :gets to work:

    • March 3, 2013 7:36 pm

      I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
      Shorts are something quite new to me, and writing one that will actually see the light of day was somewhat of a challenge. So thanks!
      And good luck. I’d love to see you win some cash–your work will certainly be a contender. 🙂

  5. March 3, 2013 5:46 pm

    Sounds like you’re heading in the right direction with your story. If I was writing one I’d outline the entire thing first, and then mold the words to fit the 2,500. Anal and structured, that’s me. However, since my muse is toying with me and I’m not in the mood to chase him, I’ll sit this contest out.

    Oh, and your tumbleweed photo looks like my part of the scenic route. Any idea where it was taken?

    • March 3, 2013 7:42 pm

      I wish I could tell you where that picture was taken, but Big Stock didn’t list the location. 😦 I was thrilled to even find a picture of a tumbleweed for this post. Your scenic route must be stunning!

      I’m beginning to make peace with my story discovery process, and the fact that it involves a LOT of revision. But I don’t think I’ll ever stop wishing I could write in a more organized way! On the other hand, the muse has been especially generous this past week, not only finishing up this story in a satisfying way, but presenting the seeds for an entire new book!

      Chocolate was consumed. 🙂

  6. March 3, 2013 6:59 pm

    Yikes, I don’t write short stories. Every time I sit down to write one, it ends up being 40,000 words. Clearly, brevity is not my strong suit.

    We’re in tumbleweed season here–I smashed my first of the season just a few days ago!

    • March 3, 2013 7:45 pm

      You smash tumbleweeds? Do tell me more!
      I had another story idea for this contest, but it too needed to be scrapped as it began to blossom into a ten thousand word behemoth. We’ll have to see if I can keep this one in line in revision.

  7. March 3, 2013 7:00 pm

    Good luck! I’m gonna try to write a short story soon too! My endings never turn out the way I plan, but I do try to make my characters come full-circle, so they match in a way:-)

    • March 3, 2013 7:47 pm

      Unplanned endings have the twistiest surprises in them–the chocolate filling in the tootsie pop. 🙂 I like that you consider the character’s needs first, since I think that even in a short story the character has to fulfill their ambition somehow. Fleshing out the character in so few words might be the trickiest part for me!

  8. March 4, 2013 2:29 am


    Before I forget – GOOD LUCK with the contest and thanks for a fun post… I felt your voice come through, but don’t stress, you didn’t give the house away 🙂

    It sounds like you are under control… especially with the extra time left… nice 🙂

    Me? I *LOVE* flash fiction as a way to release from WIP… but I know I can easily want to write only 300 words and look up and see 2,190 🙂

    • March 4, 2013 6:46 am

      Aww, thanks Mark 🙂
      It’s tough for me to gauge how long a piece will be when I start, but I think it might be one of those things that gets easier with practice. Kinda like a sprint versus a marathon. 😉
      Though I think I will always I prefer the long haul!

  9. March 4, 2013 5:32 am

    Good luck! 😀

  10. March 5, 2013 9:21 am

    I’ve never had much luck with short stories…they’ve been rejected by lit mags countless time 😦 I personally like my short stories, but unfortunately I’m more a novel person (like you :)) and just can’t seem to master of the art of fast fiction. That whole “flash fiction” genre really puzzles me. I don’t think there is much of a market for short stories and I’ve found that if they aren’t super-duper literary, they get rejected. Sigh. Although a lot of people self-publish short stories…so there’s an idea! But good luck with yours! I’m digging the whole mystery vibe to it…like much of your writing 🙂

    • March 5, 2013 9:57 pm

      Short stories are an enigma to me as well– in fact for the longest time I felt unworthy as a writer because I simply couldn’t wrap my head around such a relatively small amount of words.
      I’ve stopped worrying about that. 🙂 And trust me, this little story is not at all literary, just a whole bunch of fun.

  11. March 5, 2013 11:28 am

    By the way…just nominated you for The Inspiring Blogger Award. Check it out on my blog

    • March 5, 2013 9:58 pm

      Awesome! Thank you, I’ll be right over. 🙂

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