Category: short stories

Organizing a Short Story Collection

These are short story collections.

Last year I made a plan. In 2020 I was going to build a website (check!), consistently update that website (mostly check!), and I was going to self-publish a novella and a short story collection (… not check…).

So obviously, 2020 being what it is, things have changed. When I made this plan there was no Covid on the horizon, I wasn’t thinking about buying a house, and I didn’t expect to become a father. Yet, somehow, all of those things happened. And you know what? I kinda like the unplanned stuff more (except Covid–that can suck a big fat donkey dick).

Anyway, all of those things are a delay, not a cancellation. The novella is written (but needs some editing, and a rewrite of at least one section), and I have enough stories to put together a collection. The plan was always to pull down the vignettes and collect them with unpublished stories. I’m going to do that, but as I sat to think about what that could look like I realized that short story collections are more complicated than just taking a bunch of stories and throwing them together.

First, if I’m going to self-publish something, even if it’s only priced for $0.99, I want the reader to get value out of it. A book made up of 12 vignettes would top out at 15,000 words, if that. I don’t think I’d buy that book, especially when the vignettes were already free online at some point. This wouldn’t be as simple as just collecting and self-publishing what is already on this site.

The idea was never to only do that, but I did want to ensure that I had enough stories of varying lengths to make a purchase worthwhile. I went through everything I’ve written, including what I knew I wanted to include, some works I wasn’t sure about, and ideas that aren’t written but I’m excited about. I put them all into a spreadsheet (youse know how much I love spreadsheets) and wrote down the exact page count for each, as well as whether the writing was a vignette, short story, or poem.

Seeing all the stories laid out quelled my fear that I wouldn’t have enough writing that I was proud enough to publish. I saw there was a decent mixture of lengths that, together, added up to something worth $0.99. The next step, then, was figuring out how to organize them.

I didn’t quickly find many articles online for organizing short story collections. That said, much of my thinking from here on out is influenced by this blog post from BOOKFOX, so instead of cribbing from it I’ll just point you there.

Specifically, I found guideline #3 to be helpful: “Build your own structure, and then order stories according to that logic.” The post describes five different types of structures for a collection–hourglass, möbius strip, mosaic, musical improvisation, and instant replay. The hourglass structure most appeals to me for this particular collection.

Having decided on a tentative structure (it may change as I work toward publication), I had to figure out how to fit the stories I chose into this concept. My stories tend to wander between genres, but touch on common themes or play with similar styles. I went back to my spreadsheet and added “Genre” and “Subgenre” columns. Sticking to only a few genres so as not to overcomplicate the exercise, I put the writings into loose groupings.

Then, on the advice to start with your strongest story to draw the reader in, I arranged the order from that story down. From there, I tweaked the order in which stories appeared to have a better flow from genre to genre, and from idea to idea. Now, the collections starts with a series of horror stories, eases into existential dread, turns into experimentalism, dovetails into romance and sci-fi (I tend to use sci-fi to explore romantic notions–who knew?), and ends on a dramatic note.

This collection has required far more thought than I expected, but it’s also challenged me to think deeply about what I’m including and why, and illuminated common themes in my work.

I hope to have the collection on Amazon by December or January.

Behind the Vignette: Letter(s) to the Girl(s) I (Once) Love(d)

Click the image above to read the story before learning more about it.

This is an old story. I don’t mean that in the metaphorical sense, as in this is a boy-loses-girl story as old as time, although it is that. I mean I wrote the original version of this shortly after college, while coming to terms with a break-up.

It’s changed since then. I’ve revised the story to be more playful with language, more bold in its metaphors, more focused in its theme, but its origin is that of a heartsick young man that felt like he had sabotaged himself.

With those ingredients I intended the story to explore memory–how it can change over time, how it differs from person to person. We rarely appreciate the things we have in the moment, so we’re forced to rely on our imperfect memories. There’s a lot of sadness in that perspective. How can we ever truly appreciate what we have if our only experiences of it are in hindsight, when it’s been filtered into something different?

The story also touches on inadvertently making fears real. By loving someone too hard, too fast, and thereby being afraid of losing them, you can push them away. It’s cautionary in that sense.

There is a lot going on, perhaps too much. It’s not quite focused. A little messy. But I like that about it. I think it’s an accurate reflection of relationships and, especially, those feelings after a break-up, no matter how amicable.

After writing this I had the idea of doing an entire series of letters written to different women that helped to shape some man’s identity. It’s not a stretch to say that men are shaped by every relationship they have with women. It’s probably not a stretch to say that any person is shaped by their relationships, period, but I can only speak to my truth in this regard.

The idea was that a man would write letters to every woman he’s ever loved, starting with his mother and working up to his wife, reflecting on how they shaped him into who he became. I wrote several of the letters, each based on some experience I had, but was never happy with most. I think it’s because they lacked the urgency of this particular letter. That emotion is important, but it’s hard to generate on a whim.

So, for now, this is it. Let me know what you think.

The Constant Search for Inspiration

That title is a bit misleading. I, personally, don’t typically search for inspiration. I have no real need to. I’m bombarded by ideas, most of which are shitty and I forget as soon as they happen, all the time. Inspiration is everywhere. The last idea I got that I was excited about what as I was driving through a foggy Pennsylvania after visiting home for Easter. My girlfriend was sleeping in the passenger seat of the car, the fog was the thickest I’ve ever seen, there were woods on either side of us, and we suddenly passed an overturned semi. That atmosphere and jarring image were all it took to shake something loose in my mind, and I wrote up a short treatment as soon as I got home.

Easter may seem like a long time ago. And it was. But ideas (really good ones, anyhow) are fairly rare. For a screenplay I’m happy with maybe two or three ideas that could be considered high-concept per year. Novels are even less than that (although sometimes there is a choice to be made between an idea being right for a screenplay or a novel). Short stories are a different beast. Ray Bradbury believed in writing one short story per week. I’ve come to realize that I don’t have the ability (right now) to be that prolific. However, I think short stories can deal with much more mundane material, perhaps with a twist, and still be engaging. I’m a fan of the slice-of-life and think that sort of thing suits itself well to flash fiction and even longer short stories, if done well.

I’ve run into a problem, though. Recently I’ve lacked some inspiration. I know the cause – my life has been boring. That’s not even completely accurate; you’re life can be boring and still give you fantastical ideas. But you need to seek them out by reading more, observing more, studying more. I haven’t taken the time to do that recently. My more intellectual pursuits have fallen by the wayside. It’s difficult to know if that will change anytime soon. My summer, as of right now, looks like it might be full of work and not much else.

I know what you’re thinking: Who wants to live that way? I should clarify what I mean by “work.” I mean my day job, of course, but I also mean writing work. Finishing scripts, new projects, that bane of my existence I call Manifest Destiny (one day I will break you, Manifest Destiny! One day!). It’s just that between those things and whatever social life I can cobble together in this strange city, there is the risk of enveloping myself in a bubble that doesn’t allow for new experiences or learning new things.

So here’s my point: Inspiration is, literally, everywhere. But you still have to take the time and put in the effort to look. It may be hiding in plain sight, but it’s still hiding.

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