Writing Short

on December 6, 2012

I write long. After twenty books, only five were less than 100,000 words (The Hunt, Tempting Evil, Kiss Me Kill Me, If I Should Die, Stalked) and those five books were between 95-98K. My longest book was Original Sin (125K) followed by Love Me To Death (122K) and Playing Dead (120K). When I average the word counts of all 20 books, I average 109K words/book.

So when I think of stories, thinking “short” isn’t easy. I see stories as bigger than a single idea, filled with characters and actions and, well, stuff. However, I love reading short stories. I glommed onto Stephen King’s short stories at a young age. Some of my favorite science fiction stories were the shorts by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury. And I loved Agatha Christie — many of her mysteries were essentially long novellas.

In 2007 I wrote my first short story for KILLER YEAR, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I made a lot of mistakes–primarily using multiple POVs for a 7K word story! However, I learned so much, and by the time I wrote my first novella, I realized the benefit of learning to write short. Forcing myself to limit the scope of the story and learning to trim the fat were two important tools I now could add to my tool chest.

But I learned something else valuable about writing short stories that made writing my books more creatively satisfying.

When I finish a full-length book, I’m drained. I’ve spent so much time in this world, writing 8-12 hours a day, 6 days a week, creating, then revising, then editing, that sometimes I go brain dead :/ … The thought of diving into another world, with new characters, knowing what my schedule will be, puts up a big fat wall. Some writers say they refill the creative well–they go on a trip, they take time off, they do nothing but read or go to the movies for two weeks.

For me, with five kids and deadlines, a trip is out of the question. I also avoid taking more than a weekend off from writing, because if I take too much time it takes me longer to jump back into the writing process. I’ve figured out that the best way for me to get excited about the next big project is to write something completely different between books–preferably something short.

I think I learned this when I wrote a short 4K word story for the Horror Writers Association anthology BLOOD LITE II: OVERBITE. I was tasked with writing a “humorous” horror story. Mine was dark humor, mostly because of the voice of the character. I loved writing something so completely different.

After I turned in STOLEN, the 6th Lucy Kincaid book, I wrote a 25K word novella “Reckless.” Writing it essentially cleansed my palette so I could dive into the first Maxine Revere thriller, which I’ll be starting tomorrow.

“Reckless” is a Lucy Kincaid short story. Because it’s a digital-only story, I didn’t want anything that happened in the novella to have a major impact on my main characters or their relationship. At the same time, the story needed to be a complete and satisfying morsel. I was very happy with how it turned out, and writing it was definitely the break I needed so I could launch into Max. When I’m done with Max, I’ve just committed to writing another short story for a multi-genre anthology. (The trick with this new story is keeping it to under 10K words–again, writing short is not easy!) Then I’ll jump into the next Lucy book, COLD SNAP.

Don’t get me wrong–I love writing the Lucy Kincaid series, and I expect that I’ll love writing the Maxine Revere series as well. But stretching myself, trying new things, writing short — all these things are fuel for my muse so she doesn’t get burned out.

Some of the short stories that have stuck with me throughout the years are many of Stephen Kings (too numerous to list — he’s the master of the short story); Robert Heinlein’s “And He Built a Crooked House”; “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr; Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”; and while I loved all the contributions to LOVE IS MURDER, the most recent Thriller Writers anthology edited by Sandra Brown, one particular stand out was Robert Browne’s “Speechless.”

Do you like reading short stories and novellas? Why or why not? What are some of your favorites? Share with us today and one commenter will win any anthology I have a short story in, or a novella 🙂 — Killer Year, What You Can’t See, Two of the Deadliest, Blood Lite II, Love is Murder (digital Lucy short), Entangled (digital), Love is Murder (anthology), or Killing Justice (digital).

Reckless will be out on March 12, 2013.

Two suspicious hikers …
An unmarked grave …
A missing child …

FBI trainee Lucy Kincaid’s spontaneous weekend camping trip with her boyfriend, P.I. Sean Rogan, turns into a deadly nightmare when they come across two hikers looking for their lost son. But when Lucy and Sean split up to help find the missing child, each quickly realizes that the parents have a dark secret they’ll kill to keep.

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