Recently, I had the opportunity, or more like I was forced to write a short story because I had blogged to readers of my series that I would do so, to write a short story with the hero of my Deadworld series. This came about due to the fact that some readers complained (and rightly so) that Deadworld lacked sufficient back story on Nick, an old west vampire who has chased and been chased over the past century by another villainous vampire. Thanks to the internets and the ease with which things can be self-published, I set about creating something that would detail this historical information.
Writing short is a whole different species of writing. It takes a different mindset when creating a short story. Everything you write has to matter. Every word, every scene, every description must add to what you want to accomplish within a very finite amount of words. You don't get the luxury of meandering about like you do in novels. You don't have the luxury of working up to something important. Everything is important from start to end. This isn't to say everything you put into a novel shouldn't be important, because it is, but the weight behind all the words takes on much more significance when you have ten percent of your normal word count. You must choose wisely.
For my short, Blood Justice, the main action of the story is a showdown between Nick and the villain, Drake. While action is certainly the driving force here in showing how things all got started for Nick and led up to where Deadworld starts, establishing character is equally as important. Nick is a lawman, and his two driving forces in his life are family and protecting those within his territory. Thus, the action should highlight these two major character traits. I wanted readers to get a sense of not only what happened to Nick to make him the way he is when Deadworld begins, but also what kind of man he was when this whole thing started. Doing so inside of 10k words is a challenge.
That said, writing this short story was a lot of fun. I imagine it's a bit different when you are starting from scratch, but I had established characters to work with when I began. I already knew the ending of the story. I just needed to get there while accomplishing the goals I set out to do. Knowing where and how things end is vital to writing any story, at least for me. I need to know where I'm going, but I also believe it takes on much more importance in a short story. Think of it like a funnel. Everything you write is swirling down to one point. Everything you add must blend together down to a cohesive point at the end.
For me, it was a matter of detailing the actions of the characters to signify the important elements of Nick's character. While knowing what happened to Nick is important to readers of Deadworld (and by the way, the story does stand on it's own, you don't need to know Deadworld to make sense of this story), it's actually who Nick is that is the central focus. Amidst all of the violence and gunfire, taking Nick from Sheriff to vampire and what that meant to him as a person, is really what these 10k words was all about. Know what the core of the story is. If you don't, a short story won't feel like an actual story, but merely a snippet of something larger that doesn't make sense as a whole.
Whether I reached this goal of highlighting who and what Nick is as a character is certainly open to debate, but it was definitely fun trying to get there. It's a tragic story of justice gone horribly wrong, of taking on something far beyond your abilities and how dealing with that shapes you as a person. Not an easy subject to get a handle on, but I must say that after writing this, the idea of doing more short stories is much less daunting.
Happy reading/writing everyone!