Today she's talking about what works in short fiction - and doesn't! - for her as a reader.
As some of you may know, I've recently teamed up with cdn_tam (that's Tam) to start a site which reviews m/m romance short stories.
Brief Encounters Reviews is HERE if you’re interested, and if you're not, then I apologise for the obvious promo :).
Now, I wouldn't have started the site if I didn't already have a great love of short stories. To me they are the fillers between the longer books that I read, the convenient quickies when I'm doing all the pesky stuff a Mum has to do like sit around in cold sports halls whilst my daughter does gymnastics, the late night picks when I'm not tired enough to sleep and daren't brave starting a novel in case I get sucked in and am still reading at 3am. To me a good short story has as much value as a longer novel. No wonder then that I felt that it was high time someone spread the love of shorts and dedicated a site to reviewing them.
Having said all that, I think it's wrong to say that anyone can write a short story. It's a skill and a specialised one at that. Lots of authors, who should perhaps stick to their wonderful longer novel writing skills, put out shorts, and not always successfully. Now I'm not here to offend anyone, or to claim I have all the answers. After all I'm just a lowly reader, what can I possibly know about writing? But, I do read a lot and over time have realised that there are some mistakes that authors make with stories time and time again.
So here are my personal bugbears about short stories:
1. Trying to fit too much into the short format
This is the single biggest mistake I find in short stories. The author has huge ideas, whether is plot or setting or characters and then squashes it all into less than 15,000 words. In this case something has to suffer. You can't spend thousands of words setting out an elaborate setting and then stick an unbelievable HEA onto the end. Nor can you fit in an all action plot and create complex characters at the same time. Or at least it seems not from the some of the stories I have read. The motto of a story should be to keep it simple: Enough setting for the story to be grounded in place and time; enough of the characters to give them definition and make them real. Choose a focus and a purpose for your story and stick to that, whether it's the development of character or a focus on the relationship, and don't get bogged down with incidental details.
2. Mistaking sex for emotion
Many of the short stories I read end with a fairly lengthy sex scene. Now, I'm not complaining about that, especially if the sex is well written, but what does bother me is if the author hasn't taken the time to get the emotional stuff in before the sex or, even worse, has the emotional connection tacked onto the end. Many stories are meet + instant lust + hot sex = lifelong commitment. Huh? I'm sorry but that doesn't work for me. Sex does not equate to love in my book (although I know some of you may disagree with me on that point). In these cases a HFN is perfectly acceptable. In fact most shorts, unless they deal with an already established couple or take place over a few weeks, should end with a HFN. There's nothing wrong with that and also provides scope for a follow on story at a later date :).
3. Telling us absolutely nothing pic by Doug Hyde
This one applies to stories which are either extras to a novel or a series of shorts involving the same characters. I understand the pressure that some authors feel when their fans are clamouring for more of a well loved couple. Why not then put out a nice short, showing us something of their HEA? I've no problem with that and I'm guilty myself of pestering authors for more of a favourite couple (*cough* Nic and Aidan *cough*). What really annoys me then is if the follow on story tells us nothing about the relationship other than they are happy and still having sex 2 years later. Why would I want to spend my hard earned cash on such a non-story? In order for a follow on story to work it must tell us something new about either the characters or the situation. The best stories are those which take an unresolved tension from the source book and resolves it, or which picks up on an insecurity, a jealousy or tensions within the family, or shows us a new commitment in terms of starting a family or buying a house together. In other words anything other than just a sex scene (although I'm quite happy for the sex to be included as well as the other stuff LOL). A common complaint I hear about short stories is that the reader felt that they wasted their money on something they could have had by re-reading part of the original book.
Reading back on this I realise that I do sound rather that the bossy schoolteacher I used to be before the kids came along and turned my life upside down! The purpose of this is not to judge or offend, but to show one reader's opinion on some of the things that make a short story a dud for me. I'd be interested in whether you agree with me or not. Do you find these three "bugbears" of mine the same for you? Do you think I'm being too harsh on the poor writers who labour on their short stories with love? Or do you not care because you hate short stories and never read them?
BTW, if you want some fantastic examples of short story writing at its best then pop along to Clare's website HERE where there are lots of wonderful freebie stories.
Sez a blushing Clare (and no, I didn't bribe Jenre with chocolate to say any of that...) in a mood of blatant self promotion: see the link below on Jan 01 for the follow-up story for Nic and Aidan from "Sparks Fly" :).
AND JUST FOR FUN, A FICTION PROMPT CALL...!!
Like to stretch your writing fingers after Christmas' excesses? Take the prompt "A NEW RESOLUTION" and write something for the visitors this month. It can be anything from a flashfic 3 sentences to a drabble of 100 or so, or even more. Any genre, any theme, any rating, any character(s). Maybe ones you already love, maybe the chance to try on a new character for size.
I'm holding a FREE FICTION DAY on the 28th, so send me new fiction - links to your existing work also welcome! - to clarelondon11 AT yahoo.co.uk and I'll post it all then :).
Follow this month with Clare - and the goodies so far:
JAN 15: Favourite worldwide travel with cdn_tam.
JAN 16: 10 cautionary tales from ZA Maxfield! zamaxfield.
JAN 17: The business/pleasure balance of writing from libby_drew.
JAN 18: Why M/M? And who wants to know? from jordan_c_price.
JAN 08: A great new novel and sequel from mickieashling.
JAN 09: Fiction and beautiful illustrations from essayel.
JAN 10: Forthcoming menage release from lc_chase.
JAN 11: Fabulous mix of SF and erotic romance from Sloane Taylor and Robert Appleton.
JAN 12: Follow the bizarre photographic history of Wind in Hair Guy with egret17.
JAN 13: When only your family understands the joke, with charliecochrane.
JAN 14: A top 10 of gay books you should read from erastes.
JAN 01: A FREE short from me, revisiting Nic and Aidan from Sparks Fly.
JAN 01: Delicious m/m icons from luscious_words.
JAN 02: Why I want to be a Bond villain! by chrissymunder.
JAN 03: The world of inspiration between 'historical' and 'contemporary' with stevie_carroll.
JAN 04: Some fascinating Swedish proverbs from 1more_sickpuppy.
JAN 05: A round-up of a great year just gone from angelasstone.
JAN 06: The countryside and history that inspires author sandra_lindsey.
JAN 07: The challenge of trying to balance edits, with diannefox and anahcrow.
Check up on the original post and the Guest Schedule for January HERE.
Want to join in but missed the original call? Email me at clarelondon11 AT yahoo.co.uk and I'll happily find you a space ♥
NOTE: most pictures chosen by me and credited where known, others may be used without direct permission, please contact me with any queries/concerns.