Maureen Kauzlarich

Children's Author

Write a Short Story Before the Big Book

Writing a long book can be a daunting task. There are many ways to go about it including "pantsing" or writing as the ideas come to you. There's also being a "plotter" or someone who plans out every scene or chapter with an outline. These are the typical ways to write a novel, but there's also one more trick. Writing a shorter story (think about the average word count in short-story contests for your genre) can help you write the same idea as a book. Here's how:


See your main characters for who they are.


When conjuring up a short story, you don't have much time to have a whole cast of characters. (Unless you want to kill them off quickly, then by all means.) Your mind will think about the word count and will pluck the best of the best to carry out the deed. Whether that deed is killing off some darlings or going on vacation, only the main characters will matter in this shorter piece.


Only room for a scene or two.


Pretend you’re taking a vacation in a small town, but you only have the day to see all the sights. Then you're off to the bigger city where your main adventure awaits . . . Did that sound too much like a tourist ad? Anyways, writing a short story means you’re forced to only have a scene or two; the setting can only go so far. This will make you think hard about where your characters need to be to push the plot forward.


Your friend, Plot.


Is there a story or did you do a characterization? Is there even a clear setting or is it vague? Is it character-driven or plot-driven? Did you or did you not have a problem that was solved? Now that is the question worth answering. Okay, throw in some characters and have them do stuff in a place. Is that a story? No. They need to grow somehow, whether it be from the environment around them or actions they did to their environment. Basically, they need to be in trouble. They should be in for IT, whatever it is. You can't just let the main characters kill off your whole cast and let that be the end. Repercussions, solutions, DRAMA. That's what readers want to see.


First, Second, and Third Person.


First is the worst. Second is the best. Third is the one that's in your head. (That was terrible.) But seriously, the biggest thing a short story can show you is if the book should be told in first, second, or third person. Maybe you thought first person omniscient was the best way to go about telling the story. Then you figure out the narrator shouldn't also be a character that knows all. This leads you to third person limited for your book. You've already seen how the other way goes in the short story. Whichever point of view you choose, you can see it before you invest in the bigger word count. Note: First person omniscient is pretty rare.


Are you certain you're a pantser?


Sure, you can outline a short story, but it's short enough to write at will. This will give you an idea if you can pants a novel or if you desperately need to plan it out beforehand. Pantsing a short story is the best time to do it. It can give you creative ideas out of nowhere. This is because A.) You're literally grabbing ideas out of the seat of your pants and B.) Only given a short amount of words freaks your brain out and forces it to give you the best of ideas. Try it. 


Are you sure you're a plotter?


Certainly everyone should outline . . . or should they? Perhaps not, but you should at least keep a track of where the story is going. Write down all the chapters and the names of the characters. Drawing scenes or looking at everything in a calendar-style view is good, too. If writing the short story was rough in terms of organization, definitely outline your book beforehand. You can always veer away from the plan when lightning strikes, but it's as rare as the muse whispering in your ear, "This is what you should write." Usually, you're nowhere near a pen when that happens. 


Go ahead, enter that contest.


Short-story writing contests can help motivate you to write. They also give you an audience and the perfect word count for your intended book reader. If you're a deadline sort of person they also give you that too. Look back on all the short stories you have written for such contests. Is there a book in there? Side note: Looking back at old short stories can have promising characters, settings, and plots to use in a different book. 


Seeing the BIG picture.


Once you write out your short story, let it simmer for awhile. Heck, let it get cold. Come back to it later and you can see your book in a tinier space (like a microwave because now you got to heat it back up). Reading it at a glance can give you an aha! moment. Maybe you decide a character you killed off needs revival to add depth to the book. Perhaps your setting needs some revamping to make it more interesting. It could be that the problem your characters solved in the small town was too easy and needs layers. Now you have something to work off of for your *dun, dun, dunnn* book.







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