Want to write short fiction? Short stories and novellas can be great fun to write, as well as profitable.
A word regarding short fiction and copyright. I’ve spoken to several writers who’ve sold short fiction on the freelance marketplaces, then regretted it.
When you sell your stories to someone who pays for it on one of the marketplaces, you’re selling all the rights.
Important: when you sell “All Rights” in a story, then once the money’s paid, the story is no longer yours, in any way or form. It’s gone. It’s a “work done for hire.” You can’t use any of the characters or situations in any work going forward.
The “rights” factor is the big reason that I’m all for self-publishing your fiction, rather than selling it to websites, magazines, or on one of the marketplaces. You never know when one idea will spark another one… A single character in a 1,000 word short story could become the hero of a major series. (If you retain the rights in your writing.)
OK, with rights out of the way, let’s look at why you’d write short fiction.
Why write short fiction? Here’s the answer in two words
A rainy afternoon’s work could sell more copies than your most recent novel. Today, readers are happy to pay for short fiction; it gives them a quick hit of entertainment in their favorite genre.
Let’s look at four tips to help you to write and sell short stories and novellas.
1. The all-important stakes: who stands to gain or lose?
There aren’t any rules when you’re writing short fiction, so you can write whatever you choose.
However, to satisfy readers, aim to make the stakes high. Someone wants something and is determined to get it, no matter what.
2. Keep your cast small: one main character
When you’re writing a short story, keep the cast of characters small. You haven’t the space for a tribe.
An exception: if you’re writing a novella as a prequel to a series, you may add in a couple of characters you don’t strictly need, because they’ll make an appearance in your series.
3. Know your BIG scene: make it unusual
What does your point of view (POV) character fear most? Once you know that, you know this greatest fear will play out in the climax of the novella, or short story. You’ll torture your character by making him face what he most fears.
A student asked whether you need a climax in a novella. Some authors feel that you don’t. Other authors end on a cliffhanger, so that the reader will buy another book which carries on the story.
I like to include a climax, and I never end on a cliffhanger. I like my novellas to be a complete emotional experience for readers. That said, it depends on your own needs, as well as on the genre.
4. Write your first draft quickly, in scenes and dialogue
I like to write the dialogue in scenes first. The dialogue is usually the action of the scene. Writing that first gets it out of the way. Then you “fill in” the action, setting, and characters’ thoughts.
The only rule in short fiction
I said there are no rules in short fiction… But there’s one rule. Here it is: finish your story.
(Here’s Angela’s rule too: self-publish, and keep your rights.)
Many authors, whether new or established, seem to lose heart and inspiration and never publish their stories. But please: finish your story. And publish it.
Your readers will appreciate your efforts. 🙂
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.