Flash and Short Fiction Collections

If you choose to self-publish your own flash and short fiction on amazon, you’re going to find that you can’t just upload one flash story and sell it. Amazon has a minimum on minimum word count. Besides you want to give your reader enough bang for their buck (literal buck. I advise to keep your collections at 99 cents. You won’t be making a lot of money, its more to get your work out there and read).

So how do you decide what stories to put together? Well you have a lot of options. Some of these you may want to think about before you even start writing. Collections can be tied together in many ways.

1. Theme. Using one theme, tell many different stories that reflect it, that examine it.

2. Character. Using one character, tell a bunch of stories about them.

3. Magic. Write a bunch of stories that explain and show off your magic system.

4. World. Write a bunch of stories that explain and show off your world.

5. Multi-linked. This is where each story that follows is linked to the one before it but not to any of the rest. For example my first story is about elves. The second story is also about elves but has the theme of light always conquers the darkness. The next short wouldn’t have elves but would examine the same theme of light and darkness. And so forth.

6. Genre. The only thing linking the stories is a similar genre, especially if you focus on a sub-genre.

Another thing you can do that can help sell your other self-published (or even traditionally published) longer works is making short story collections that reflect an aspect of your theme, world, characters, magic systems or all of the above of the longer work. This lets people “try out” your story without putting down a lot of money. It can also make them fall in love with your work and make it impossible not to purchase more.

So whether or not you use your short fiction to promote any other writing you do, short story collections can be a lot of fun to both make and sell.

Has anyone self-published their short fiction work? How did you do it and how well did it do?

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How to Write Flash Fiction

Writing flash fiction that has meaning is as simple as following a formula. Now some people hear the word formula and they immediately think derivative however I don’t believe that. I think formulas are useful. I’m going to share what I use as a formula that I learned from Holly Lisle’s How To Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck.

First you take a character plus a need plus something standing in the way of their need and you have the beginning of a story. This can be for a flash or even a longer story. My example is a lost (need) fairy (character) searching for home as the sun sets (problem).

Next you add two complications to your problem (three for longer works). My example complications are sun sets and with it her powers disappear (complication one) and then the night creatures come out to stalk her (complication two).

Finally you resolve the problem, either giving the character what they need or denying the character what they need. Add some meaning to it and you’ve got your story. I find the endings are the hardest part of writing flash fiction. Tying everything up and then leaving the reader satisfied but wanting more is a tough challenge. I find that I tend to use two different kinds of endings. One is the opposite of what the reader expects and the other is the opposite of what the character expects happening. My example ending is the fairy uses her wits to outsmart the night creatures and finds home. Nice happy ending for my story. (Which is rare for me. The ending I’d expect is for her to get eaten, but that isn’t very satisfying).

Check out Holly Lisle’s FREE flash fiction course for more detailed breakdowns of beginning, middles and ends. What she says about endings is particularly awesome. And its free.

My example isn’t great but it wrote itself basically in ten minutes or so. I just did the small amount of planning beforehand and then wrote. Your finished piece won’t necessarily look like your outline (just as it is with longer works).

If you have a hard time coming up with ideas, random generators are always fun to use. Just don’t feel constrained by them. Use it to spark your own creativity.

How do you write flash fiction? How do you get your ideas?

Short Fiction: Yay or Nay

Another common question often asked is if it’s important to write and sell short fiction. I personally think anyone can benefit from writing and selling short fiction, even if it isn’t something that is natural to you. My natural story length seems to be novellas, up to 50,000 words but not shorter than 17,500. It is work for me to write a complete story in less words or even more words. And while there is a market now for novella length fiction in e-books, other traditional markets are closed off. I’ll talk later about the benefits of writing novel length fiction at a later time. Today I want to focus on writing short.

Other than not taking the same amount of time as a longer work, there are many benefits to mastering (or at least learning) the short form. Not all of these skills transfer over to longer works, but many do. First, when writing to a certain word count, the value of each individual word goes up in direct proportion to how low the word count is. Flash fiction, that is stories shorter than 1,000 words, will drill into you the importance of the right word. It will also limit info-dumping and over explaining.

A short story has all the components (beginning, middle and end)of longer works, you can just get them out much faster. This allows us to practice our beginnings, middles, and ends over and over rather than just once with a given novel. Every writer has a weakness to one or more of these. Some struggle with how to start, others how to end and even more how to get from one to the other.

Short fiction also has a more visible finish line. For those of us who struggle with finishing our work (our hard drives are usually full of started but not completed manuscripts languishing about lazily), we can complete an entire work in the time it would usually take us to write a chapter or two of a novel. This not only gets us to focus on finishing a work before beginning the ever enticing edit, it gives us a burst of endorphines for crossing that finish line. I know for me, it doesn’t matter what the length of the work is, I always get that rush when I type the words the end.

Finishing gives another upside of getting us to the point of being able to practice that all important skill revision. The famous adage that writers don’t write, they rewrite is true. While its hard to consider that our hard won first drafts are crap (though repeating the phrase that all first drafts are crap while writing often does shut up that inner critic), the power that revision gives us as writers to take what’s in our heads that are now words on paper that can now be shaped closer to the perfect vision in our heads. But revision is a skill just like all other aspects of writing, a skill that needs to be practiced and worked in order for us to grow. However, I strongly believe that a work should not be touched with revision’s pen until it is completed. Now looking at a novel, how many can you write in a year? Compare that to the short story, which can take a day or a month, but is still a whole lot faster, which means a whole lot more to practice.

Remember writer’s write. Whether its long or short, every bit of writing is further practice, further refinement. You lose nothing by working on shorter fiction, nor does it mean you can’t also work on longer fiction at the same time, benefiting from the lessons learned while writing short.

All these benefits does not mean that a short story is just a novel written in fewer words. Short fiction is a form all its own and mastering it does not translate to mastered novels. I’ll post in the future some ideas on how to write short fiction and resources for study.

A big stated disadvantage to short stories over novels is selling your work. There just isn’t the same amount of traditional markets for short fiction, though there are markets out there (especially for you speclative fiction writers like myself).

Who else writes short fiction?

From Idea to Final Draft: My Process

My writing method makes sense to me, but probably doesn’t make sense to other writers. Some probably do things pretty close to how I do and otherwise do the exact opposite of each. So what is my method?

First I outline. I tend to do limited amount of world building and character building. I prefer to discover those types of things as I write. What I do need to know is who my main characters are and what they want, why they want it and what is stopping them from getting it. From there I do a line for scene outline that includes what the character in the scene wants, whats standing in their way and if they get it or not and what worse thing happens to propel the story forward. I stick pretty close to my outline though I’ve been known to change stuff around while writing. This really helps cement what needs to be written each day.

 

 

Next I write the exploratory first draft. I follow my outline and just write. I don’t worry about prose or even making scenes come alive. There are a lot of talking heads in my first drafts. A lot of dense sections of action and then a few, but not many descriptions. My settings are bare, my characters naked and the bare bones exposed.

 

 

 After a first draft, I try to let it sit a bit but usually I’m ready to start revisions. Revisions for me can take more than three times as much time as a first draft. My first revision is usually a rewrite. The plot had gotten messed up, the ending is rushed, scenes are missing, etc. I do a first read through, making notes on what does and doesn’t work. Then I write an outline of what each scene that actually made it looks like. Usually my scenes will drift a bit from outline as I discover more about my characters and world. This is where I do more world building, answering the questions that came up during the first draft. After all of this analysis I write a new revised outline. I then start at the beginning and write through my outline, sometimes transferring full scenes from draft one to draft two but that depends on how much I keep from the first draft. My first two novels have almost nothing kept because I changed so much.

 

 

The third draft is where I flesh out scenes, bring the senses alive and making sure the setting adds to the scene rather than being a dull backdrop. This is where everything gets nailed down and character begins to shine. Second draft is all about fixing the plot. The third draft is about fixing character and setting.

 

 

The final draft is the polish. This is where I pump up my verbs and nouns. I cut, cut, cut until the prose cuts back. I make sure it is both readable and enjoyable. I spend time on perfecting similes and metaphors. I also pay more attention to grammar. Once this is done, I’m ready to look for betas.

 

 

So what’s your writing process? Do you have one true way of doing things or do you like to try different techniques for different projects?

The Importance of Finishing What You Start

One thing writing has taught me is the importance of finishing what you start. Everyone can benefit from this lesson, not just writers. I have a lot of unfinished works on my hard drive but writing isn’t the only thing I have a hard time finishing.

I’ve started knitting. So far I’ve finished two scarfs and half a washcloth. I still use the half washcloth but it is half the size the pattern called for. However I’ve started and unraveled countless projects so far. Right now I have two separate projects going at once, one another scarf and something called a spa towel. I’m already tempted to start another washcloth but I’m refraining until the towel is done. So what right? Who cares if I finish what I start knitting wise. It’s all practice right? Only its hard to see how I’ve improved if I keep undoing my work. Plus I’m trying to give these things as presents for Christmas and I don’t just want to give unknitted yarn.

So being stuck I made some goals for December, easily achievable and recordable. I’m going to finish the unfinished projects on my hard drive. This includes five flash fiction stories (less than 500 words needed for each), one novelette (about 3k-6k left), and 3 short stories, all of them only needing an ending. Boy I suck at endings.

I already know that I’m not sure how many of these projects, especially the flash fiction are even going to make it to revision. The passion on them has been lost since they’ve sat untouched for months. However dispassionate I feel, I need to finish them. I’ll learn from the finished project and I’ll know at that time whether they will ever see the light of publication.

I’m not just going to begin where I left off, instead I’m going to read each piece through from beginning to end and then write. I may even do some planning on the endings, though I already have the ending planned for both the novelette and the short stories. It’s the flash fiction that I have no idea where I’m going with.

This is one of the reasons I started blogging. To have the satisfaction of something finished, even if its just a blog post.  There are a lot of reasons why I blog actually, but that’s a subject for a different post.

Who else has problems finishing what they start, not necessarily just writing projects? Do you abandon them or come back later? What motivates you to finish what you start?

Stuck in the Middle With You

I am creatively stuck. Every day that I sit down and try to put words on the page feels like trying to suck my brain out of my nose with a straw. Okay bad analogy, but let’s just say it is very painful. I usually can just word vomit nicely and come out with decent story. Well decent first draft at least. Right now, I am so stuck I can’t even get a page done. I’m trying to just write through it but it’s like trying to charge a castle by going through mud. It’s slow, it’s tiring and I just want to give up. And I could. Writing isn’t something I have to do, it’s something I desire. That I love, on normal days.

So what do I do? Do I just let this pass? How? Do I keep trying to write through it. Normally I would. But my brain feels like it’s stopped working and I don’t want to do anything. I know this is my depression. My desire to do anything, even fun stuff like video games and reading, hold no appeal to me. I don’t want to watch anything, I don’t want to do anything but sleep. Even sleep sucks right now. Evelyn has been in our bed since 1am and I can’t move her without her waking up. By now, 6:30 its too late to go back to sleep anyways. Like the Whedon mascot says: Grrr Arghhh.

My other option is to stop forcing it and just take a break. But I’ve just come off of a break after Nano, a Nano I did not complete (I got to the end of the story but it was only 35K rather than 50K and I’m okay with that. November was a huge month of me seeking treatment.)

I have zero motivation to even keep breathing, but I do because I need to. Because I know that this too will pass, eventually.

So those who have suffered blocks of some sort for whatever reason, what helped you push through them? Did you take a break? Did you write on through? And those who suffer from depression, have you experienced something similar?

Increase Your Word Count

Some say that it takes a million words before what we write is publishable. That is obviously up for debate but something to keep in the back of the mind. Getting to a million words is going to take time though. However there are ways to increase your word count and cut the time it does take. 4,000 words a day can take a writer anywhere from an hour to a full eight hour or more day.  There is a great blog post by author Rachael Aaron which details how she went from writing 2,000 words a day to up to 10,000 words a day. I love this article. There are a ton of tips for any writer and I highly recommend reading at least this post . She also came out with an ebook that includes revised blog content and new content that you can get on amazon.

My first suggestion is to keep a record of your daily word count. Include in this, the time you wrote and where and look for patterns. Find out where and when you work best. It’s also a great motivator to see word counts grow, especially if you are able to make a jump from a small daily amount to more than double or more your previous ability.

Of the three points on Rachael Aaron’s triangle, knowledge is the most important one for me. Before writing any scene, I ask myself these important questions. What does my character want or need in this scene? Who or what stands in their way? And do they accomplish their goal? If yes, but then what happens to complicate things. If no, and then what happens in response to their failure. I got the yes, but/no, and from writer Mary Robinette Kowal. There are other questions you can ask yourself before starting the actual writing of a scene, but I always ask at least these four. Then I know there is going to be conflict and change in every scene. No more meandering and pointless conversations where nothing happens.

An example from my current WIP: My character wants to catch an unregistered super before he can escape. The unregistered super isn’t going to make that easy, using the people between them as weapons against the MC. The MC almost catches the super as he flees into a building, but the building explodes before the MC can follow him.

The next point on the triangle is time. Writers forget that not all of your writing time is typing words in a word processor. A lot of our time is dedicated to thinking about our stories, living in them and with the characters. Not everyone has a full day to dedicate to their craft, with full time careers or a family to take care of or full time school, there are other requirements of our time. I often spend the time I’m doing chores to immerse myself in the world of my current WIP.

Finally, she talks about enthusiasm. This amounts to making sure every scene we write is one we are excited about. This is crucial but easily overlooked. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we must have this scene for such and such to make sense. However no scene in your novel is necessary. Any information you need to convey, can be conveyed in any scene. So skip those boring scenes and stick to those that get your heart pumping, that you can’t wait to write. And if you begin to dread the scene you are on, you have a couple of options. You can skip it. Move on to the next scene. Try to add any necessary information from the cut scene, but honestly this is a first draft. It is okay to miss pieces. Once you have the skeleton written, it’s easier to see what is really necessary. You could also change up the scene. Change the characters. Change the setting. Change the character motivations. I find if I’m dreading a scene, it’s because the motivations of my characters are murky or weak. Once I electrify their needs or raise the stakes, the scene starts to fly.

You are going to have rough days. Days where the words feel like crap. Days you can barely scratch out anything worth keeping. However on the whole, writing should be enjoyable. You should look forward to it more often than dread. If you’re starting to find excuses to not write, examine why. It could be that you’ve taken a wrong turn in your current manuscript or it could be that this isn’t working for you. And that’s okay. No one has to be a writer. And no writer has to follow anyone’s path. Do what works for you.

What are some of your favorite ways to increase word count?