Posts Tagged ‘Anton Chekhov’

So, I’m reading Every Woman Knows This: A Horror Collection by Laurel Hightower, a collection of horror short stories I won in a Twitter giveaway. Not very fast, because I get through print books so much more slowly these days than I used to, but I’m making my way through it. And I am in awe that some of these short stories appear to be shorter than five thousand words. Hell, some of the earlier stories in the collection appear less than four thousand.

And I’m sitting there, reading the stories, and I’m like, “How does she do that and make them still so damn good?”

I actually posted that question on my personal Facebook and my Twitter feed. Laurel responded to the Facebook post (we’re friends there), thanking me for posting about the book and being glad that I’m enjoying it. Did not share her secrets with me, though.

I wish she had, because I would love to be able to write stories that short and still be effective. After all, I grew up on Harry Potter and the Bartimaeus Trilogy, followed by books like Interview with the Vampire and IT. The shortest of those books is seventy-seven thousand words. By the time I started regularly reading and writing short stories, my brain was already primed for sprawling plots with deep twists, multiple layers of themes and secrets, and complex character relationships that are explored through multiple pages, chapters and books.

Taking all that out and trying to tell an entire story in less than seventy-five hundred words (what the Horror Writer Association says is the maximum word count for a short story) was a huge switch for me. And honestly, I’ve had varying success. Occasionally, I manage to get a story less than seventy-five hundred words, and sometimes those stories get published, but more often short for me is a novelette between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Not as long as a novel, not by far, but allows me more room to work with those plot elements I like.

Still, I do try to come up with and write those shorter stories, what Stephen King calls “a quick kiss in the dark from a stranger.”* Yeah, it’s difficult to do, but most publications are looking for stories of that range, and I want to get my work into them. And, I like the challenge. It’s another hill for me to climb on my journey as an author. And, occasionally, something I write in this vein is really good.

That being said, if it looks like a short story is destined to be a novelette, or even a novella or novel, I will let it be the length it’s going to be. No sense trying to maim a good story so it can fit somewhere, right?

But I still try. And I’ve gleaned some things in my attempts, like instead of big plots or huge happenings, you focus on small instances or events that may happen to one or two people. Rather than the big moments, like the destruction of It in the sewers of Derry or the fallout of four writers visiting a haunted house on Kansas during Halloween for a publicity stunt (Kill Creek by Scott Thomas, if you don’t know), I should focus on maybe a ghost at the Ohio State Reformatory trying to get information on what happened after he died, or a young man dealing with something evil that’s appeared intermittently in his life. Those might manage to become the kisses given in the dark by a stranger.

Actually, one of those was a kiss in the dark, and some of you may remember it. It’s “Is Anyone There,” which was published last year in That Which Cannot Be Undone, and got mentioned in several reviews as a highlight of the anthology. So maybe I might be closer to my goals than I think.

Just don’t kiss me in the dark. I’m more likely to punch you for that than enjoy it or put it into a story.

What are your tips for writing short stories, Followers of Fear? Do you struggle with keeping them under 7,000 or 5,000 words? Let’s discuss.

Also, be sure to check out Every Woman Knows This by Laurel Hightower. So far, it’s a great collection, and I hope I’ve learned some things by the time I’m done.

*Which, by the way, is a weird idea, isn’t it? You walk down an alley or into a room and it’s really dark and suddenly someone plants one on your mouth before disappearing? Actually, the scenario with the room is the plot of an Anton Chekhov short story, and the character who gets the kiss does have an impression left on him. So, I guess it’s a good metaphor.