Keeping up with my free short stories every month, this time around I went with a different style and dove into an epistolary style, where each part of the story is a short entry from the protagonist – Dr Harvey Bollard – as he details an excavation of something that shouldn’t exist. It may have been inspired by my recent obsession with The X-Files.
After a wee hiatus, Project Dark House is back in action with another freebie posted on IrishComics.ie. I finally got to work with a bucket-list artist, Lane Lloyd, on a creepy, genre-diving story called The Faces of the Many.
Entirely inspired by the fact that Fractured Realms is currently funding on Kickstarter, I wrote a short story about a god – the last god – encountering the last humans on Earth, following a sort of apocalypse scenario.
While Project Dark House is between comics at the moment, I decided to delve into the world via prose fiction. Masquerade is a weird story that looks at identity, because apparently existentialism is my brand when I’m writing these days.
Short stories are always a fun way to force myself back into writing. To get the ball rolling on 2023, I wrote Spare a Thought, a story with a telepathic virus of sorts set in a small Irish town with too much to say.
Following on from the publication of The Fiend in the Forest earlier this year, I worked with Gavin Fullerton to produce the second story from Project Dark House. Dead Ringer is an 8-page story about identity and faceless violence. With a monster, for good measure.
To celebrate the launch of IrishComics.ie, I teamed up with Clare Foley on a new short horror. The Fiend in the Forest is the first completed work in what I’ve taken to calling Project Dark House, a weird little universe of original cryptids.
When it comes to writing short fiction, sometimes it can be difficult keeping the word count low. In this post, as part of my NaNoWriMo series, we’ll take a look at three tips for keeping a story short. This is essential if you’re planning on writing a short story a day for NaNoWriMo, if you know how long each one is meant to be.
What makes a short story?
A short story is like any other story – it needs a beginning, a middle and an end, and should actually say something. It helps to understand general word count ranges for different lengths of story.
0-7,500 words – Short story
7,500-17,500 words – Novelette
17,500-40,000 words – Novella
40,000+ words – Novel
It’s imperfect, because everyone disagrees about one thing or another. Some people will specify word counts for flash fiction differently, whether it’s up to 100, 250, 500 or 1,000 words, and others will insert a noveletta into the mix, as well as specify word count ranges specific to genres.
With that in mind, how do you keep your word count down?
Start as close to the end as possible
The less build-up you have to do, the less time you need to spend wrapping up.
We don’t need to know how everything happened, just that it did, and pick a moment near the end to focus on. This will help you avoid the sort of set-up that a novel requires, and protects the short story from going stale before it’s gone anywhere else.
Introduce the premise, character and their motivation as quickly as possible
We should know everything we need to know from the get-go, especially for fiction of less than 1,000 words.
If a character’s relationship with their father isn’t important to the story, you don’t need to mention it. If a character’s motivation is to become an astronaut, the story should be about that.
Ideally, aim smaller: the character just needs to get through an interview, or a lunch, or get somewhere on time. Big motivations, long-term goals, are for novels, unless we’re close to the end.
Short-term goals, things a character can achieve in a day or less, are better suited for short fiction. And always refer back to the previous tip.
Outline in 3-5 bullet points
If you need 20 bullet points to plot your story, it won’t be short. Keep it simple. Refer back to the previous tips.
Your plan for your story can follow something like this:
Introduce the premise, the character and their motivation.
Introduce an obstacle.
Explore how the character will overcome the obstacle.
Conclusion. Wrap it all up.
Write about moments, and let the story end, no matter how much you love the characters (or what you get to do to them.) That’s the key to making it short. If you like the characters, and you haven’t killed them all by the end, you can always write another story about them. Arthur Conan Doyle did it with Sherlock Holmes.
Do you have to plan?
Technically no, but I know a lot of people who try to write without a plan and end up going way over their target word count. Planning your story will help you figure out exactly how much will happen in it. Likewise, if you know how many words you’re allowed to write – if you’re writing for a submission to an anthology, magazine or competition – you need to be able to plan your story accordingly.
My NaNo prep series is done, at least this time around. Ahead of the July Camp session, I may write another series, covering other topics.
Any creative act takes time. Novels happen to take a lot of time, even just to get a first draft. That’s fine. When you’ve done it a couple of times, you expect to spend a large portion of your available time sitting at a keyboard, working away. NaNoWriMo just happens to require that you condense the experience into a month. In this blog post, we’re going to look at some tips on making time, and making the most of what you’ve got.
Making time out of nothing
Finding the time to write is difficult, especially if you’re working full-time and/or raising children. During the time when I was minding my niece, my productivity went way down. When I was working in an office 9-5, my available time was gone, too. You learn to make time out of nothing.
Set time aside
The first thing to remember is that the time won’t just appear out of nowhere. You have to make it. Spend a few minutes and take note of how you spend your days. Are you staying in bed long after you wake? Are you playing games on your phone, or browsing social media for an hour?
What’s the least important thing in your day? What can you give up at the drop of a hat?
You already have time to write if you spend time doing nothing. Try to set aside a couple of hours in your day to work on your novel. They don’t need to be consecutive blocks of time, but they should be whole blocks, and you shouldn’t include the time it takes to make tea and power up your laptop. Remove distractions before you get started. That hour is your writing time.
Try the Pomodoro Technique
The simple version of the Pomodoro Technique is this: set a timer for 25 minutes, work for that period, take a five minute break, and then work for another 25 minutes. Starting and stopping with the timer is important. The break is necessary.
Using this as a guide, you can fit two Pomodoros into an hour block, and wind down before you need to do anything else.
If you think 25 minutes is too long, try 20 minutes. During NaNoWriMo, I’ll be helping the Dublin region by running some writing sprints of that length of time throughout the day. When we did it in November 2019 for a couple of hours, three times a day, many members wrote several thousand additional words over their average, and productivity as a whole increased.
This piece of advice is kind of a cheat. The faster you write, the more you’ll get done. The truth is, the more you write, it’s likely that you’ll get faster. Some people find this statement is true even of a single sitting – the longer they go without having to stop for an extended period in the middle of the day, the more words they can write.
The time making formula
This blog post has been about highlighting three ways of increasing the amount of writing you can get done in a day. To recap:
Set aside time you already have
Use blocks of time to work
Write regularly as training for writing more
Combined these three things can help you make the time you need to write 50,000 words in a month. Or more. Many overachieve. It doesn’t necessarily make them better writers, just people who can make more use of the time in the day to write.
What if you don’t write novels?
These techniques are aimed at NaNoWriMo as an event, but are applicable to writing generally. I’ve done this for writing comics, short stories, blog posts, and more. Time is limited, but creativity isn’t.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the writing of short stories instead of a novel, and my simple tips for keeping a story short.