07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Inspires a Short Story?

by Kelly McCrady
I have an author friend—with whom I just published a co-written novel (Canyon Hearts)—who has concluded she is more of a "long" writer than a "short" writer. She has a handful of successful short stories that serve as companion pieces to her Echo Falls series of novels, but she published one novella that no matter what she did to it, the manuscript kept growing. Readers have complained about it feeling unfinished, and she agrees, but was unsure what the solution might be.

As her editor, as well as coauthor, I find the issue to lie with that particular story, not her skill level as a writer. She and I put our heads together and decided rather than "unfinished," it was "unbegun" instead. Her characters gave her a view on their black moment first, and she constructed the story from that point forward. Now she is keen on the idea of delving back into their immediate past to show what led up to that moment. Most importantly, she plans to show it as real-time action on stage, rather than reliance on flashback to tell backstory, which is a common problem among less experienced writers. Her refusal to use such an amateur device is likely the culprit for this story's structure issues to begin with, as her characters are stubborn, prideful people and *insisted* she begin where they had their biggest strife. Now that they've had their moment in the spotlight, she can whip them into shape and tell their story properly. Some characters are like that.

Writers learn the basic structure of narrative, with inciting incident, rising action, climax, and descending action to the conclusion. This structure holds true over both long stories and short. The climax of a romance, often directly after the "black moment" in a relationship, is usually placed around ¾ of the way into the manuscript.

When a short story romance occurs to me, it is often at the moment the hero and heroine meet. I'll see a scene such as the opening to my latest short story, Hearts in Bloom, where the heroine is minding her business (ordinary world) and another woman complains to her about a man who strikes the heroine as extraordinary, and someone she wants to meet. Or the hero might enter the picture later, such as in my first short story Sweet Cicely, where at the end of a very long, "off" day for my heroine, the hero rescues her from her own klutziness.
In my second short story, Martial Hearts, the hero and heroine already know each other as teacher and student, but she needs to devise a way to see him alone, to learn whether she has a chance at being more to him than a student.

Writing short means to focus on one plot, one character (or couple), one conflict. In reality, people are more complicated. The joy of writing and reading a short story is to have a moment with as few complications as possible. In a romance, I like to conclude the short story when the protagonist decides to set herself free to love and be loved, to risk the pain and toss caution aside. Yes, there is much more to the story, but I leave their future to the reader's imagination.


Kelly McCrady grew up with two passions: animals and writing. She enjoys campfires, hiking in Cascade Mountain streams, and playing with her microscope. Kelly lives in Western Oregon with her husband, daughter, and golden retriever.

Please visit her author blog and her website at kellymccrady.com


Diana McCollum said...

I really enjoyed your post. I checked out your web page, too. Very nice! Good luck with sales.

Judith Ashley said...

Hi Kelly, Thanks for joining us today! Short stories are more focused and sometimes they just flow - and then there are those times when we, as the author, keep reeling it in, back to the core story. I'm looking at taking two characters from "Grandmother Moon", my short story in the "Love & Magick" anthology and creating separate stories for them. They are interesting people to me and hopefully they will be to readers! Of course that is all hypothetical unless/until I sit down and write their story/stories.

Kelly McCrady said...

Thanks for having me here today! I remember my first published short story flowing so easily from my fingers while I was in the midst of grinding through my fantasy novel. The short form felt so much easier LOL.