Friday, March 26, 2010

Making a Long Story Short

ShotToDeath300dpi Today I’d like to welcome author Stephen D. Rogers to the blog. Stephen is the author of SHOT TO DEATH and more than six hundred stories and poems. He's the head writer at Crime Scene (where viewers solve interactive mysteries) and a popular writing instructor. For more information, you can visit his website,, where he tries to pull it all together.

People who think nothing of writing a novel but turn white when they're asked to produce a short story often come to me looking for tips.

That's understandable. A short story is not a novel in miniature. A short story is not a chapter of a novel. A short story is not the novel's poor illegitimate cousin. So what, exactly, is a short story?

A short story is a form as precisely designed as a poem or an automatic weapon.

The power of a novel comes from a cumulative effect of many disparate ideas. The power of a short story comes from the cumulative effect of those same ideas boiled down to concentrated word choices. While a novelist may devote many chapters to a character's college experience, the short story writer captures the flavor and result of that experience in a single word, a word that also moves the plot forward ... and perhaps acts as a clue. Writing a novel is a journey of discovery. Even if you have an outline, a stack of index cards, you learn about your character as you write the book. You learn what decisions your characters would make and what actions your character would take and you alter the story accordingly. Writing a short story, you need to know all that before you begin so that you can layer in those qualities. The key to knowing "all that" (since most people don't want to write a novel as research for a short story) is to know your characters. Know their desires. what do your characters want? What do they want over the course of the story? What do they want in each scene? What do they want in every paragraph and sentence? Know their motivations. Why do your characters have these desires? Why do your characters think they have these desires? How do the subconscious motivations and the alleged motivations play into each other? Know their weaknesses. What keeps your characters from attaining their desires? What keeps your characters from addressing those weaknesses? How have those weaknesses made your characters what they are at the beginning of the story? And, finally, know the consequences. What happens if your characters don't get what they desire? What happens if none of their needs are met? What happens if they don't learn their subconscious motivations and how to manage their weaknesses? SDR Knowing all that, writing the short story is fairly straightforward. :)


SHOT TO DEATH contains thirty-one stories of murder and mayhem. "Terse tales of cops and robbers, private eyes and bad guys, with an authentic New England setting." - Linda Barnes, Anthony Award winner and author of the Carlotta Carlyle series "Put yourself in the hands of a master as you travel this world of the dishonest, dysfunctional, and disappeared. Rogers is the real deal--real writer, real story teller, real tour guide to the dark side." - Kate Flora, author of the Edgar-nominated FINDING AMY and the Thea Kozak mysteries "SHOT TO DEATH provides a riveting reminder that the short story form is the foundation of the mystery/thriller genre. There's something in this assemblage of New England noir to suit every aficionado. Highly recommended!" - Richard Helms, editor and publisher, The Back Alley Webzine