Monday, 27 February 2012

Short Story or Novel?

As an E-published short story writer and aspiring author myself I sit on both sides of the fence. In an effort to gain some clarity I invited the excellent author David Bishop to share his thoughts on short stories Vs novel length fiction. Here is what he had to say.

Is the story you want to tell one best told in short form or in the long novel form, or perhaps the tweener, a novella? Generally speaking, this decision will be mostly intuitive, but it will also be influenced by what you want to do with it.

I am a novelist of mysteries. I prefer that length because it provides the room to flesh out characters and build plot.  The novel provides the space to salt real clues that point the discerning reader toward the antagonist, while also scattering about a few red herrings designed to have the reader believe someone else is the dastardly villain, perhaps the butler, only to later learn the butler had been the only honorable character in the story.

I write short stories for one of two primary reasons:  I post short stories to the blog page on my website, to illustrate my writing skills with the hope readers will choose to graduate to one of my novels. I also write short stories to train myself to write leaner, that is, to trim off the fat of excess words that fails to advance the story. We have all read fiction where we skip ahead a paragraph or more to advance our reading past whatever element of the story the author has overwritten. Descriptions of people, places, and things need to paint a word picture that allows the reader to see those elements of the story, and to invoke the reader’s senses. At the same time, these descriptions and backstory must be kept short enough to hold the reader’s interest. This principle increases in importance as that person, place or thing decreases in importance. The reader does not need to know about the round white aphids on the full abundant verdant rose leaves, if only the red rose bush is integral to the story.

I set up parameters for short stories before I begin to write, imagining them as training exercises. This forces me to trim off the word-fat as I write and edit. For example, I once wrote a three sentence description of a female director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, and then shortened it thus: she had the look of a librarian and the heart of a cobra. Lean. The readers then interpret, subconsciously perhaps, their take on the look of a librarian and the absence of a caring heart in a cobra.

An example of this lean style can be found in personal blog post. Before beginning that short, The Bijou, I set these parameters: not to exceed 500 words about a woman alone in a closed and boarded up movie theater. My first draft had 610 words, my final edition 499. I cut out nothing, just trimmed the word-fat out of the sentences.

How do I use this “leanness” when writing novels? Novels are long-form fiction and whether a given book totals 60,000 or 90,000 words alone does not say the story missed its mark. However, this length freedom often leads to: twelve words instead of ten in the previous sentence—so what? Two sentences about something that does not advance the story or endear the character to the reader—so what? Too much of that sort of thing causes yawns, and, if it continues, will lead to that novel becoming a wall-banger, just before the reader reaches for an alternative novel. So, I like to write lean, or perhaps I should say leaner. Some fat enhances the flavor, but too much ruins the taste for the all important reader.
To learn more about David Bishop please visit his website or check out his latest novel The Third Coincidence 

Monday, 20 February 2012

The Stories Behind the Stories

This post is about the stories in Eleven the
Hardest Way
and what prompted me to write each one.

Adult Education
I got the whole plot for this one from a writing course I attended. The course was taken by NY Times bestselling author Joseph Finder. The topic of the course was creating tension and after explaining different methods of doing so he set us attendees a challenge we had five minutes to write about a killer picking his victims from a class like the one we were attending. Adult Education was just an expansion of the story I wrote that day.

Annie’s Story
For once I didn’t know where this story was going when I sat down to write it. All I knew was it had to start with shapes materialising from out of the woods at dusk. Halfway through writing Annie’s story I thought of the twist at the end which explained everything.

Attacking a Nation
This story came about from a throwaway comment my wife made. It was such an innocuous comment which when ran through my twisted mind, gave me the chance to write about a large scale terrorist attack. Without giving anything away the line is used near the end of the story and allowed me a dig at a very famous person many think of as a fool.

Bobby’s Bar
This was a private investigator piece which I wrote as a closed room whodunit? I’d never written a piece in that style before and it’s only looking back at it that I realise that is exactly what it is.

Crimes of Cashing
I’ve always admired the way that Simon Kernick put the ordinary man in an extraordinary situation within the confines of his own home before creating a chase novel. This was my own effort at writing in that style.

Honeymoon Hassle
When casting for ideas I thought back to an experience my wife and I had on honeymoon. From there I wrote up the story using our middle names for the characters. To clear things up it was ME who paid the guy beforehand not her. The rest is all true including the last line.

Kansas Kindred Killer
I had the crime for this story planned for a few weeks before writing it and when I did finally write it I made sure that all the characters were horrified and affected by the crime. I then wrote it up as a whodunit with a neat little twist at the end.

Lonely Nights
This is basically the fruit of a writing exercise I gave myself. I wanted to write a piece in which there was very little action but one hell of a lot of suggested threat and menace. I specifically chose to have one character and no dialogue as I wanted the threat to be dismissible as the character’s imagination by both the reader and Susie herself.

Shooting Stars
This story was originally a joke I read online. The joke was dismantled and restructured to provide an ironic twist. I first used the story as a piece of micro fiction and then fleshed it out fully to give it more legs. I enjoyed the tale so much I have a sequel written as a draft.

There Goes the Bride
I wrote this for a competition but missed the deadline. One of the competition rules stated that the story must be set in a specific location so I chose my hometown of Gretna Green which gave a perfectly busy tourist destination which allowed the story to have so many imponderables. I wanted to write not only a whodunit but a whydunit. Once again the twist at the end is the explanation.

Under the Cover of the Streets
I wanted to write a dark piece about inner city peril and I had also had an idea for a neat surveillance gadget (perhaps a patent would be a prudent course of action). From there I fleshed it out and added a little twist at the end just as a change.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the inspiration behind the stories as much as I enjoyed writing the tales.
Eleven the Hardest Way can be downloaded from Amazon by clicking here.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Plan of Action

Here is the grand plan to which I'm aspiring for my writing. Any suggestions would be gratefully received.

  1. Get the first draft of my novel finished so I can put it down and then go back to edit it. The working title is "The Ironmonger's Error"
  2. Spend a month writing short stories and flash fiction pieces which I intend to submit to some of the excellent blogsites and writing competions. I will also be offering pieces to sites where I have not yet been featured in an effort to increase my circle of readers. There will also be another collection of brand new material realeased from the stories I write in this period.
  3. Do the necessary edits and corrections to The Ironmonger's Error and then send it to some beta readers.  If you would like to help with this just let me know and i'll happily sign you up.
  4. Write a Harry Charters novella or short story telling his back story. I plan to do this using a second person POV so it could be an epic fail or a glowing success.
  5. Do the edits and changes suggested by the beta readers and then try to get an agent.
  6. Start on the follow up to The Ironmonger's Error and also write a short story starring each of the six main police characters.
I will of course allow myself to be distracted by everyday life, football and beer like every other writier out there. Any agents and publishers who offer me a several figure book deal can also expect the tearing up of this plan forthwith (lawyer speak for right away)

I'll also be writing pieces where requested and doing interviews, guest posts etc. If anyone would like a piece for an anthology I am always happy to help if I can and especially so if it is a charity anthology.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Update on Progress

I have just opened this blog and it will get better with time and experience, so please forgive any faults until I get my aching head around things.

With regards to my writing I have re-named 11 The Hard Way slightly and have edited it afresh along with Harry Charters Chronicles. I'm just awaiting the covers now and then they'll be live on Amazon as soon as possible.

There's links to where my scribbling can be found online over there -->

More to follow soon.