Sunday, February 9, 2014

Write a Really Short Story by Lyn Horner

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I’m a regular follower of the Western Romance Writers Please Post Here ( #2) thread on Amazon’s Meet Our Authors forum. Back in the late fall, a bunch of us on the thread agreed to publish a western romance anthology of short stories to be called Rawhide ‘n Roses.

I thought this project would be fun and probably wouldn’t take much time since our stories were to be in the 2,000 to 3,000 word range, really short. Right. The only problem was I’ve written only a couple other short stories – flash fiction actually – and they were more like parts of a bigger picture. How was I going to tell a complete story, much less a romance, in so few words? Most chapters in my novels are longer than three thousand words. What had I gotten myself into?

Well, I stewed about it for a couple weeks. (I’m good at stewing over things. It’s exhausting!) Finally, I resorted to my favorite trick for roughing out a scene: I grabbed a notebook, clipboard and pen and settled into a nice hot bath. No, I’m not kidding. The wet heat seems to open up the pathways in my brain. Or maybe it’s just that there’s nothing to distract me, a big plus since I’m easily distracted, especially now that my husband is retired and around the house most of the time. Not that I’m blaming him; it’s my own fault for being so eager to do anything but write. Know what I mean?

Anyway, when I retreated to the bathtub I had absolutely no story idea in mind, but the moment pen tougunslinger.2 head shotched paper this guy jumped out of my head, insisting his story be told. What story, I asked? He promptly informed me he was a lawman, a marshal in a small Colorado town. Here’s part of the scene he dictated to me:


“Move aside,” Marshal Trace Balfour ordered, pushing through the noisy throng gathered in the street outside the Golden Slipper Saloon. Their shouts and laughter had drawn him from his office up the block. Among the crowd, he saw the local Methodist preacher, the undertaker and the owner of the mercantile across the dusty street. Several ranch hands, in town on their day off, made most of the racket.

Trace also noticed the schoolmarm, Matilda Schoenbrun. With her brown hair wound in a tight bun at her nape and wearing a drab calico gown of the same color, she brought to mind a brown jay such as he’d seen as a boy in south Texas. When she spotted him, she threw her shoulders back and narrowed her lips, looking down her bespectacled little nose, setting his teeth on edge.

“Marshal, please put a stop to this!” she demanded in a haughty voice.

“Ma’am, that’s what I aim to do.” Touching his hat to her, he shouldered aside a pair of cowboys whose laughter and catcalls almost drowned out the shrieks coming from a pair of females rolling in the dirt. Trace recognized them as saloon girls form the Golden Slipper. With red and purple skirts bunched around their knees, they fought viciously, scratching, biting and pulling each other’s hair.

He’d rather face a gang of bank robbers than deal with these snarling wildcats, he thought grimly.

How’s that for an opening scene? Does it grab you? It did me. But then what? Who was the lawman going to get romantic with, one of the feisty fillies rolling around in the dirt? I had doubts about that, and how on earth was he supposed to win the mystery woman’s heart is the space of five or six pages?

My logical plotter’s brain said no, no way. No can do. I’d need at least a hundred pages to get them cozy enough to hop in bed, wouldn’t I? My characters never engage in full blown love scenes until they’ve known each other a while. After that, well, let’s just say things get steamy. But not in 2,000 words, for gosh sakes!

Let me tell you, this short story business had me stumped. It required more stewing and several false starts before I figured out how to bring the marshal and his lady together.

Points to ponder when writing short stories:

  • Settings must be bare-bones; no flowery descriptions.
  • Forget deep character studies; there’s no room.
  • Keep backstory to a minimum; if important, make it concise.
  • Every word should move the story along; sentences are like paragraphs, paragraphs are like pages in a book.
  • Actions speak louder than words. Show emotions through body language, facial expressions and dialogue. Don’t depend upon introspection; again, there’s no room.
  • Save the best for last; a dramatic ending will stick in a reader’s mind.

Short stories are a whole different kettle of fish for an author who normally writes historical novels in the 100,000-word range. After this exercise I have newfound respect for short story writers.

Whew! Now let me share a more familiar subject, my Native American romance:

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Dearest Irish

Set in1876, Dearest Irish stars Rose Devlin, the youngest of three psychic siblings who hide their rare talents for fear of persecution. Gifted with the ability to heal with her mind, Rose inadvertently reveals her secret to Choctaw Jack, a half-breed cowboy she finds fascinating but rather frightening.

Choctaw Jack straddles two worlds, dividing his loyalties between his mother’s people and the family of a friend who died in the Civil War. Like Rose, he keeps shocking secrets that could cost him his job, even his life. Yet, he will risk everything to save his dying mother, even if it means kidnapping Rose.


Rose regained her senses slowly. Feeling herself rock to and fro, she groggily recognized the loping gait of a horse beneath her. But how could that be?

She forced her eyes open, taking in the starlit sky and the dark landscape passing by. Blinking at the sight, she realized she was seated crosswise on the horse – in a man’s lap. Just like that, the scene in her bedroom with Jack came back to her, and she knew whose chest she leaned upon and whose arm was locked around her.

Panicking, she cried out in fright. Pain lanced through her jaw, reminding her of the blow her teacher-turned-abductor had delivered just before she’d sunk into oblivion.

“Easy now,” the brute murmured. “You’re all right. Nobody’s gonna hurt you.”

She threw her head back to see his shadowed features. “I’m not all right, ye . . . ye kidnapper!” Cupping her painful jaw, she demanded, “Take me back this instant!”

“Can’t do that, Toppah.”

“But ye must! Tye and Lil will be looking for me.” Catching the odd word he’d spoken, she repeated it. “Toppah? What’s that?”

“It’s you. It means yellow-hair.”

“Oh. Well, don’t be calling me that again. Now turn this horse around and take me back,” she again demanded.

“Nope. We’re heading for the Nations. You might as well relax and enjoy the ride.”

“Enjoy the ride, is it? You’re daft!” She pushed at his steely arm and attempted to twist free, but, although his hold caused no pain, it was unbreakable. Feeling smothered and panicky, she shoved at his chest, managing to create a small space between them.

“Be still,” he ordered sharply. “Do you want to fall off and break your neck?”

Before she could reply, another man’s voice sounded nearby, speaking in an unfamiliar tongue. Unaware of his presence until that moment, Rose uttered a frightened cry and instinctively shrank against Jack. His arm tightened around her for a moment. He said something to the other man then spoke softly to her.

“Don’t be afraid, Poe-lah-yee. That’s only Tsoia. He is my friend, my blood brother. He won’t touch you as long as he thinks you’re mine.”

“Yours! I’m not yours!” she shrilled, once more stiffening against him.

“You might not want to let him know that.” (Kindle and paperback) (Nook)

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Anonymous said...

Good blog. Lyn.

Lyn Horner said...

Thanks, Charlene. I'm glad you could stop by.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Great points to ponder for short story writers, Lyn. Everything has to be written tightly with no frills...just down to the heart of the story, but visceral.It takes a special talent to write a short story.
You certainly have that talent. I loved that little bit about how you brainstormed to get your story idea.
All the best to you.
Sarah McNeal

Mel Comley said...

Yep, you hit the nail on the head, Lyn, short stories are notoriously difficult to write.

I love the excerpt though and think you've pulled it off admirably as usual.

Good luck with the anthology.


Lyn Horner said...

Thank you, Sarah and Mel. Sorry I didn't get back here sooner. Too many irons in the branding fire right now. ;)

Julie Lence said...

Ok Lyn: Now I'm hooked. Where do I get this story? And kudos to you! I hate writing that short of a story.