Sunday, February 23, 2014

He Likes Short Stories and He Cannot Lie

That's what the public wants: new faces.

Louis Shalako

I like short stories and I cannot lie.

The more short stories that I write, the more options that I have.

I have more stories to submit. 

That’s like playing more than one roulette wheel at a time.

But I also get the satisfaction of finishing things more often.

One of Heinlein’s Rules is to finish what you start. I’m merely adapting it to modern conditions.

And you all know how I love rules.

Especially when it’s from somebody really big and important and they live up in the sky and stuff like that.

Put it on the marketplace.

This is really neat. One of Heinlein’s points is that you should leave it on the market until it sells.

This is excellent advice. In fact, if I stick it in the marketplace digitally and independently, it will sell.

It will sell, one copy at a time, going for anywhere from $0.35 to two, three or even four bucks in royalties, for the rest of my life and then seventy years after unless my heirs issue a new edition and extend the copyright.


If some knucklehead like me wanted to write, he would also have to learn how to construct a plot.

While a short story can be defined—some say it focuses on character and description, at the expense of plot, simply because there is a lower word count, the fact is that any story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. These are some of the simple and yet subtle ingredients that go into a plot.

So having just written about twenty stories in the first six weeks of 2014, I have essentially completed twenty plots. It’s an interesting thing to do, challenging enough in a way. Now I have more material that can be submitted, published, or polished or collected.

It might even sell.

The plots may be simple, they may be less convoluted than a full-length novel, there tend to be fewer characters and changes of locale. One novel, a manuscript put together in the same length of time, would only represent one submission. But now I can make twenty, and in a whole bunch of different genres. 

Assuming that you want to submit things, a la the classic version of Heinlein’s Rules.

That’s like playing more than one roulette wheel at a time, in more than one casino.


I don’t know if I have any deeply-rooted need for validation, but it would be nice to make a sale once in a while. That just seems practical more than anything.

I don’t make blitz-style multiple submissions. I like to keep life simple, but that single book manuscript would be out of circulation for months or even years once under submission. I’m an unknown after all. In certain short story markets the turnaround time is much quicker.

(I once got a rejection slip before I actually hit ‘send’ on my submission email. That’s how quick it is sometimes.)

I now have twenty different things to submit, publish myself, or just file away for a rainy day and forget. 

Some stories do benefit by sitting for a while. You open it up, go through it and find some new ideas flowing. 

A six thousand-word story might turn into eight or ten. Working under deadline, you might not have the same luxury of time.

That luxury comes from having a surplus of material, and the consistent ability to produce more.

I call that ‘inspiration on demand.’

(I only put them little quotation marks in there ‘cause I know how much it bugs one of my Feebs.)


So after doing all that work, (twenty stories in six weeks) I found myself at a dead loss. I had a sheet covered in cryptic story ideas, and when I read them I sort of got nothing. I was burned out for a couple of days. I uploaded books onto OmniLit, and did other administrative stuff like that.

And now, after a couple of days back at it, albeit at a nice, relaxed pace, I have a new story more or less finished, that one’s about 5,800 words as it presently stands.

By working with a lot of ideas as quickly as possible, we sort of train our brain to produce more ideas.

By completing things, over and over again, we train our brain in how to more fully visualize them in the first place. In a romance story, you already know the ending—two people get together. It’s all about getting from point A to point B in terms of a simple plot. With a novel, it’s more like A to Z, but that’s just mechanical. It takes more words, (and a different organization of the material) to tell a more complex story that has more stuff going on in it.

In a short story, the structure is a little easier to see. Now I have twenty new models built, and I can see how they worked, or even if they did or they didn’t.


We’re also positively-training our own personal expectations of ourselves, surely an important consideration in any endeavor of a purely speculative nature. Which is what writing is and has always been.

Everything that comes out on that page must first come from inside of the author. They must be the originator, the inspiration behind what in most cases will be a collaborative work when you consider editors, first-readers, etc, etc.

(I do things a bit differently, but then I’m not giving out free writing advice here.)

All of that work goes in up front, with no way to predict our ultimate rewards.

For that we must trust the readers, and the marketplace, and work very hard to constantly improve our skills and judgement.


Okay, so that sucker’s done and I’m up to whatever, 6,400 words on the next one.

{Story #22-2014, which came in at about 12,500 words. – ed.)

And it didn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of the basic premise.

Look, ladies and gentlemen, the frickin’ A-Team didn’t make a lot of sense either. Gilligan’s Island didn’t make much sense. Yet they were at least true to their own inner logic.

And in my new story I kept wondering, ‘why?’

Why would she ever do such a thing?

I really couldn’t answer the question, but I kept writing, and then in a line of dialogue, one of my people, who are real enough as I go along, said something very interesting.

And now I have it.

Three words, and it explains the whole story.

It all hangs together now, where before it was a collection of parts.

It even gives me the title of my new story, which looks to be headed north of ten or twelve thousand words by the time I’m done.

That’s the neat thing about a short story.

In a novel, you need at least 60,000 words, or you can’t call it a novel according to the generally-accepted definition.

In a short story, once you’ve gone beyond all hope of keeping your word count down to a submittable size, you have the opportunity of writing a short story out to its natural length.

This is the result of your vision, your skills and the goal you originally began with, (didn’t know you had one, did you) i.e., to write a short story.

If something goes too long, then I have another story that is unsuitable for submission.

In which case, I publish it myself. I just call it a short story, a novella, or a novelette.

Now here’s a really interesting thing.

Because it’s my ass on the line, and my name going on the front, I tend to pay a lot more attention to the stuff I intend to publish myself.

I have no editor. I have no back-up or safety net. No one holds my hand while I walk this tight-rope.

It’s all me out there.

When I submit something, I’ve read it five or six times to be sure, but this pales in comparison to how many times I read the material I publish myself.

That seems like the responsible thing to do. An editor, if he likes a story, might ask you for revisions or another pass of proofreading. They might even correct a typo—if they like your story. They will also keep it to himself or herself, as the case may be.

A disappointed reader will tell all of their friends. They might give you a less than stellar review, or ask for a refund, and in the extreme case, will dog your footsteps for the rest of your (or their) natural life.

Ah, but here’s another neat thing.

When I find an image that I love for the cover, and one of the models is wearing some slinky thing that doesn’t necessarily correspond to what a lady or a gentleman might be wearing in the actual book, as the writer, with sole creative power, I go back and put a quick change of clothing on them. This is almost impossible in a committee endeavor. It simply takes too long and adds weeks or even months to the former production processes. See, a traditional cover designer doesn’t really know what’s in the book. They rarely read the actual story in order to design a cover. But I know what’s in there because I put it there and it’s my ass on the line as a writer and publisher.

This makes the whole work of art, i.e. the digital book, and any other kind of book you care to make, a more coherent whole.

It’s been held to higher standards.

It’s a better product, ladies and gentlemen.


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