Friday, November 10, 2023

The Shorter Tale.

I did something that I have never done before on the 1st November.

I submitted a story for a short story anthology. The Bouchercon one to be exact.

I was sitting on a ferry with a bit of paper and a pen, and started scribbling.

I don't write short stories. I can only write novels. I've always felt there was a skill set required for writing the short story and it's not a skill set I possess. Also, the three short stories I've written in my entire life have popped into my head as a complete piece of work. I can't ever see myself being able to write a short story on demand about X. 

However, the Bouchercon short story was to be about music in some way. I was on a ferry. A pipe band was also on the ferry, with their kilt bags over their shoulders, wee hats tucked under their arms. It's fair to say that they'd had wee dram or 5. And I remembered a few of Alan's horror stories of being a drummer in a wedding band.


So the very bad short story was written. I'm sure it won't get accepted. I'm sure the person who reads it will get a laugh.

What are the rules for a short story? Do we have any experts on MIE? I think I recall Stan saying that he'd once written a short story to get into the character of the novel's main character.

To find out everything I had no idea about, I found an article on 'How to Write a Short Story in 9 Simple Steps' by Robert Grossmith.

He's a very accomplished master of the art.

His article starts with the assurance that the short story is much more difficult that writing a novel.

There's an argument there that maybe you have the mindset to do one or the other, and of course you are going to find the one you don't do difficult!

How do the premise, the conflict, the plot and characters get enough traction in so few words?

And then there was a ultimate question - where do you get the idea from (???).

Can the idea for the short story be 'less' than the novel? Can it have less legs? The unipod idea?

The first thing to know is the difference between a short story and a novel. And I'm  not sure what that is. Some short stories are snap shots that allow the reader to see a bigger picture. Others, are like short novels. The short story is a broad church.

Can it even be defined. Having a quick look there are  many different definitions of the short story, I'm sure some elements are common to all. 


The premise for the short story should be simple and should stay in the centre of the piece.

Give the story to a small cast of characters that all have a distinctive voice. I think that also applies to the novel writer, and many more specifically to the police procedural series- the small cast that the reader gets very familar with. 

Another rule seems to be "begin writing close to the end".  Again crime fiction works, mostly, exactly like this. The big part of the story happens years before the actual crime, the main point of the novel will be the Point Zero as Agatha Christie would say.  But much more focused in the short story maybe? No wandering along the paths of back story. Or is the snap shot story right at "that" moment.

The next step is to shut out the internal editor. Mmmm Is that possible?

From then on the advice is simple, get the first draft finished, get it edited, share with Beta readers and submit.

Well I did the last bit, thinking I has missed the deadline. Then the person on the other end pointed out that it was still the first of November for a few hours where they were. So I made it by the skin of my teeth.   

The skin of my teeth? Not a bad name for a short story!

Any of  the MIE folks got  a nugget of advice for the novice short story writer?



  1. I've struggled with the same thoughts on short story writing (SSW), though I have written (and published) a couple. Recently, though, I've thought about giving SSW a more serious try, and wondered whether my pondering was an age related manifestation triggered by subconscious thoughts of not wanting to invest as much time as it takes to do a novel. But then I read your post and realized that if a youngster like you is venturing into SSW, it must be the challenge of mastering another writing genre that attracts us. Thanks for making me feel sooooo much younger.

  2. Be brutal with your words. "I built this house, drove in every nail. Now, I can't open the doors until my finger tips heal." Oh, the drama, oh, the horror, oh, the nail through the heart. No, wait, that's a Hallinan novel. Damn it!

  3. When Stan and I were working on Sunshine Noir, I asked a friend who is a masterful short story writer to help by talking it over with me. When, in that discussion, I said “because,” he held up his hand. “There is no because in short stories,” he said. That, as far as I can tell is the secret. And the difference when thinking about a short story as opposed to a novel. FROM AA