Friday, 23 July 2010

Writing Short Stories-Novellas Effectively

I'm Rebecca J. Vickery and I usually write very long (80,000 words or more) romance novels. You might ask, then why are you blogging about writing shorts and novellas? Good question.
Recently, I felt something was missing from my writing. I could not “tighten” my stories, eliminate the superfluous details, or make a rapid point. My chapters went on and on. It took forever to reach a happy ever after. Even my characters grew tired of the journey and were screaming at me to “hurry up, already”.

A friend suggested I might experiment with going back to the basics and write a few short stories...maybe even some flash fiction. I took her advice and had an awakening experience. I now have several short speculative fiction stories published plus two flash fictions accepted to appear at the end of the year. Thank you to Jessy Marie Roberts at Pill Hill Press and Jessica from Wicked East Press for all their assistance with those.

On the strength of my personal achievements and renewed enthusiasm for writing, I talked with other authors who were also suffering “burn out” from writing full-length novels. Our collective interest in trying shorts, novelettes, and novellas grew into a small press for anthologies called Victory Tales Press. The Victory is in mastering the shorter story and taking our writing back under control and the tales are the stories to enchant and intrigue our readers. Together, we are learning to write and publish romance shorts and novellas in varied sub-genres.

Here are five of the main tips I used for returning to the basics. I hope they will help and inspire you to grab pen and paper (or keyboard) and write your own short or novella.

Cut the boring parts. Consider the story from the reader’s perspective. What will they want to know? If you can leave it out and it doesn’t change the story, dump it. What you include should be interesting, necessary, or both.
Avoid extra words. In a short there isn’t room for long descriptions or flowing passages. Every very, really, or actually and deep, brown, and wide adds to your word count, but does it advance the story? I laugh whenever I read this quote, but I find it appropriate to this topic: “Substitute 'damn' every time you’re inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” ~ Mark Twain
Keep the story simple. It is indeed difficult to write a short story if you have a convoluted plot, a dozen characters, and multiple settings. Choose one subject or theme to build your plot, a simple setting readers can relate to, stick with a limited and necessary number of characters, and one main protagonist if applicable. The K-I-S-S rule works wonderfully here. Keep It Simple, Sweetie!
Write what you know (or what you are willing to research well). This is especially important in a short. Concise facts and pertinent information are essential to a short or a novella. A lack of knowledge or lack of research will show much faster and quickly turn off your reader. Don’t give in to the notion that because it’s a short you can short-cut on validity or integrity of the story. Your readers will know.
Be unique and unpredictable. Avoid writing the same story over and over with name and setting changes. Try something new, take your characters to an exotic setting, or take them to an average setting and have something exciting and dangerous happen to them. If you normally write sweet, be more adventurous – add some spice. If you write spicy, attempt a sensual or sweeter story. Test your limits and abilities. And while we in the romance genre must have that happy ever after, we can achieve it in unexpected ways. Be daring. After all, it’s a short...much easier to rewrite than an epic novel if you don’t like the results.
[Research included information from the following sites:

Once you’ve written your novella, be prepared for a deep sense of satisfaction. The sense of accomplishment and the completion of a manuscript in less time can be addictive. In addition, I’ve found the skills needed for writing shorts seriously helped my longer works. My writing is tighter and my characters more in-depth. I am better at recognizing the “fluff” and staying on topic.

Check out the short stories, novelettes, novellas, and authors in the anthologies from Victory Tales Press:
or visit and join our forum:

 Buy Links for our anthologies include:
Barnes & Noble

Our two-book, Halloween Collection featuring ten talented authors will be released October 1.
Four Christmas Collections featuring twenty fantastic authors will be coming in mid-November.
Please watch for them and support us in our efforts.

Thank you for dropping in and I hope I’ve given you food for thought and some tips to help your short/novella writing.
Rebecca J. Vickery


Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing your seasonal short story anthologies and for that wonderful tip list! I'm going to be using it often.

Good luck to all at Victory Tales Press!

Sherry Gloag said...

I enjoyed reading your blog, because much the same thing happened to me last year. I hit a 'blank' patch and tried my hand at 1k short stories and had several accepted.
I agree, you have to foccus your mind and attention on the important details and ditch the reast.
Best wishes with your antholigologies and new publishing projects.
Your new site is 'very'! enticing. :-)

Sherry Gloag said...

Talking of details, next time I may even find my spelling erros before I hit send. LOL

Celia Yeary said...

REBECCA--I like to write short stories, novellas, mini-novels--what the coreect term is. I have three free reads on the Wild Rose press, each 1500 words. This was not easy. I'd write one and it would be 3,000 words every time. Nope can't delete half those words. But my editor--Helen Hardt at WR--laughed at me. I'd even ask her to do it for me, but she's scold and explain, then say--now, go do it. I love those three stories--maybe more than I love any of my novels. They've been downloaded 100s of times--the first one a total of around 800 times, now. That shows you readers really do like shorts. thanks for the tips, too--I can use all the help you can give. Celia

Bekki Lynn said...

Great tips, Rebecca. Very much needed here.

Narrowing down to the basics is the hardest thing for me to do. I'm on my sixth short and I swear it's not gotten any easier.

StephB said...

Rebecca, great tips - that's one thing I learned from short stories - how to use a good economy of words to tell a tighter story. It really works.


Savanna Kougar said...

Rebecca, echoing everyone... great tips. There is obviously a different rhythm to a short story versus a novel.
A short story or a novella can tell some stories better than a novel... and, for me, both help me to write the other.

Tanya Hanson said...

Great post, Rebecca. I'm the 80K plus sort myself, historical yet, so this past year I tried an inspirational contemporary sold and a second one recently bought as well. And I'm having a wonderful time with synopses for the remaining six siblings LOL.

Love the KISS.

Rebecca J Vickery said...

HI Lindsay,
Thanks so much for having me today. It is always such fun over here at the "Pink Blog."

Rebecca J Vickery said...

Hi Sherry,
I find my thoughts overrun my fingers and I cringe when I see all my misspells and typos in blogging. LOL
So glad the shorts helped you through a blank spell. They definitely renewed my enthusiasm for writing and fired my imagination. I think the shorts are like a coffee (or tea) break to our creative spirits. LOL I love my coffee breaks.

Rebecca J Vickery said...

HI Celia,
It is so hard for me to believe you have difficulty with shorts. LOL In reading your stories, it appears they just roll off your pen and fly onto the paper. Always so interesting and entertaining. Guess that's a huge measure of your talent that you hide your struggles with them so well.

Rebecca J Vickery said...

Hi Bekki,
I'm currently struggling with a short that's supposed to be 3,000 words. But my female lead has taken over and it's now at 4,500 and she shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Since I've totally lost control of this one, I may have to save her for a novella (or novel, as she has so much to say for herself) and start over.
So I totally get what you are saying. I don't think it ever gets easier to rein in those characters.

Rebecca J Vickery said...

Hi StephB,
I struggle with that in every story. I am too wordy by far. My hubby says I could talk the ears off a mule. LOL
That applies to my writing too.
Instead of saying, "the sky is blue," I always want to share the time of day, the exact shade of blue, where this sky is, and who is looking at it. LOL

Rebecca J Vickery said...

Hi Savanna,
I agree, definitely a different rhythm to writing shorts. I have to be in an entirely different work mode to write shorts and sometimes, in spite of all I can do, it just "ain't" happening. LOL Then again when I have a particularly sticky spot on a novel, sometimes working on a short will clear the cobwebs and I solve my problem. So amazing how our brains can be dealing with one problem, but solving another somewhere deep within.

Rebecca J Vickery said...

HI Tanya,
Congrats on the sell. Isn't it wonderful to try something new and have it sell? Seems shorts and novellas are selling well. I think with such busy lives as we all have now, many are drawn to the stories they can read while waiting for the kids at activities, at the doctor's office, or even when standing in line. I see so many people reading on their phones in line at the supermarket or Walmart. Absolutely Amazing and good for us as they are buying more stories!!!

Cheryl said...

I made it over! Better late than never!!! LOL Your post is wonderful, and has such good ideas and tips that everyone can use. I always said short stories were not my forte, but I'm beginning to chance my ideas about that the more of them I write. I truly do enjoy them, because they are a totall different kind of writing than when we write the longer stories. I always remember that old story about Hemingway, when challenged to write a the shortest story he could, said, "I can do it in 6 words: 'Baby shoes for sale. Never worn.'"

Rebecca J Vickery said...

Hi Cheryl,
Thanks for dropping in. I was late today too. That's why all my responses were made at once. My internet connection was acting up all morning. Seems with the ACs all running at maximum, I can't get a decent signal.
Glad you liked the tips. I'm really enjoying writing shorts but it will never replace writing a full-length. LOL But it has improved my overall writing and I hope it will continue to help.

LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Rebecca, I love that Twain quote also. :-)

Shorts are a nice brain break, aren't they?