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Writing Short – Second Chances Anthology Release Day!

Yesterday, Romance Writers of America released its second anthology – this one entitled Second Chances and featuring seventeen short stories about couples getting a second chance at love.  There are stories from some big names – from J. Kenner to Rachel Hauck – as well as several by authors whose work might be new to many readers.  I’m delighted to be able to say I’m one of those authors.  My story, Something Old, Something New, features best man Nick showing up for a wedding to discover the wedding planner is the woman he loved a decade ago… and she now has a daughter who looks a lot like him.  It’s a whole lotta drama – and, like all the authors in the anthology, I only had seven thousands words to get the HEA.

Many authors will tell you that writing short is often harder than writing long.  You have to convey all the same emotions, hit all the same beats and wrench all the same empathy out of your reader – but you don’t have several hundred thousand words to make readers fall in love with your characters or to work through all their issues.  You have seven.  Just seven.  (George R. R. Martin, eat your heart out!)

I’ve written at a variety of lengths – from 15,000 word short stories to 105,000 novels – but this was the shortest I’d ever done and I have found I am most successful when I vary my approach to adapt to the length.  Short stories are a different beast entirely and here are a few of the things I like to focus on when I’m writing them.

Things to keep in mind when you’re writing short:

  1. Keep the conflict! (But be smart about it.)  Just because a story is short doesn’t mean there can’t be any juicy tension. I don’t know about you, but as a reader I’m looking for a lot more than “They meet! Everything is perfect! The End.” You want to have a story chock full of emotional conflict – but when you’re sitting down to write short, one thing to consider is how much conflict you can reasonably resolve in seven thousand words.  There are some short cuts you can employ (having your characters have a preexisting history is a good one – when they have a past the tension can already be ramped up to Def Con One, whereas it’s harder to jump straight into the meat of it with people who just met), but keep in mind the more conflict you give yourself, the more you have to resolve.  (I’ve found that misunderstandings make excellent conflicts in short books as they can believably resolve quickly.)
  2. Nix the subplots.  The more you wander off exploring subplots, the less time you have to build the relationship and resolve the conflict between the protagonists.  Her aunt or his college roommate may be awesome characters, but we just don’t have room for them today.  Stay focused, my friends!
  3. Make your scenes do double duty.  This is always good advice.  Every scene needs to not just establish character, but also dig into conflict and advance the plot.  You want to hit all the same beats (inciting incident, rising action, point of no return, black moment, resolution) but you need to do it fast and you can’t be wandering through filler scenes on your way.  If you can make everything link together and feed toward the HEA, you’re golden.
  4. Write tight.  Again, this is always good advice, but in short stories it’s even more essential.  Nix those filler words and be very thoughtful about the descriptions you’re using.  Do we need three paragraphs on the cut of her dress?  Do we need a monologue on the exact shade of his eyes?  Or can we leave that to the reader’s imagination?  Don’t get wordy when you don’t have to, but…
  5. Protect your voice!!!  This is sacred above all. It’s easy, when we get into a Cut! Cut! Cut! editing frenzy, to zap some of the things that make our writing sing.  Be sure it stills reads like YOU when you’re done.  It’s more important to have a satisfying read than it is to delete that one extra that.

And there you have it.  My tips for writing short and satisfying romance stories.  Now go forth and conquer the world.  😉


Do you believe in second chances?

Romance Writers of America® brings together seventeen of today’s hottest authors in an anthology of never-before-published tales that reveal true love always deserves a happy ending.

Follow New York Times best-selling authors J. Kenner and Christina Lauren back to reader-favorite worlds.

New York Times bestseller Alyssa Day sprinkles djinn magic in her humorous paranormal romance, while Rachel Hauck brings the enchantment of the holidays in her New Year’s Eve contemporary love story.

And Liliana Hart delivers thrills and adventure in her hero and heroine’s search for the impossible.

With characters who find love through tough situations, in elegant 1800s ballrooms, with an old friend who shows up when least expected, at a tender age when cliques and homework get in the way of relationships, or after a random encounter in an unlikely setting, Second Chances delivers romance to strike every reader’s fancy.

Plus tales from:
Marilyn Brant, Kerri Carpenter, CiCi Coughlin, Cassandra Dean, Tina Ferraro, Renee Luke, Ariella Moon, Brandi Willis Schreiber, Lizzie Shane, Sharon Sobel, Damon Suede, Tara Wyatt

On sale now.

20 responses to “Writing Short – Second Chances Anthology Release Day!”

  1. Very timely advice. Thanks!

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  2. jbrayweber says:

    Excellent advice, Vivi! I especially like #5, but all these points are spot-on.

    Jenn!

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  3. Julia Day says:

    Congratulations on the anthology. It sounds great! (And poor Damon Suede; I just attended the second workshop from him this summer. I promise; I’m not stalking him, but he is one of the best presenters ever!)

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  4. Congrats to all the authors included in Second Chances!

    This is such timely advice as I’m writing a flash fiction story, due in a week, and having a hard time keeping the piece within the 1K guidelines. I keep coming back to it determined to zip it out, but… I want to keep adding details, emotions, and dialogue. Writing short is darn hard. Your #2 is going to help me. Slash those secondary-characters.

    Thanks, girlfriend.

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  5. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Congratulations on “Something Old, Something New” and thank you for the great advice! Have been thinking of pulling out one I wrote in HS and “maturing” it up a bit.

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  6. Congratulations on the release, Viv, and excellent tips on writing short! I’ve written a number of short mysteries over the past two years, and #5–protect your voice–is key. You can write tight and lean but still allow room for freshness, originality, and your own brand of word elegance.

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  7. Tamara Hogan says:

    Congratulations on the anthology, Vivi! I’m bookmarking this blog post because as you know, writing short is very difficult for me. 🙂

    Very practical tips!

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    • Thank you, Tammy! Do I dare hope you’re considering another novella in the future? I can never get enough Underbelly. 🙂

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      • Tamara Hogan says:

        Could happen. 🙂 I’ve plotted the Underbelly Chronicles out to nine books, so I know who my heroes and heroines…aren’t. Some of these characters are saying, “Hey. What about me?”

        I expect I’ll learn something reading the anthology. *click *

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  8. Darynda Jones says:

    Thanks for this, Vivi! Personally, I think it’s all hard. LOL! Short, long, medium…ish. But your tips are spot on. I actually had a very difficult time figuring out how to write novella-length. I’ve been writing short stories since I could write and novel length after that, but that middle ground, those novellas, took some research and a lot of meditating. This is awesome!

    Congrats on the anthology! Off to spend some money, baby!

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  9. Darynda Jones says:

    Thanks for this, Vivi! Personally, I think it’s all hard. LOL! Short, long, medium…ish. But your tips are spot on. I actually had a very difficult time figuring out how to write novella-length. I’ve been writing short stories since I could write and novel length after that, but that middle ground, those novellas, took some research and a lot of meditating. This is awesome!

    Congrats on the anthology! Off to spend some money, baby! It sounds fantastic!

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