Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My conversation with Sandra Sookoo and the art of the Short Story

Hi everyone. Rebecca here. Today I thought I might do something a little different and have a conversation with my fellow Paranormal Romantics blogger author Sandra Sookoo. Sandi, as I call her, is going to teach me a little bit about something that I struggle with, which is writing a short story.

But before we get started, let me ask you about your writing Sandi. Tell me what you have available for purchase, what the next book coming out is, and what you’re working on now.

Thanks for taking time of your jam-packed schedule to give me this opportunity, Rebecca!

What’s for purchase? Out right now is my debut full-length historical novel WINNER TAKES ALL. Also out is my first short FOODIE’S GUIDE TO KITCHEN MAGIC. Both of these books have received numerous fantastic reviews so you can’t go wrong with either!

Next book coming out? THE HAUNTING OF AMELIA PRITCHART will release September 30 with The Wild Rose Press. Very excited about this one! Next will be the first short in my Holiday Magic Series entitled EXILES FROM CHRISTMAS. It’s release is November 16th so be on the lookout of that!

What am I working on? I have a contemporary WIP that’s 5 chapters in, but I’m being beat over the head by an idea for a Halloween novella so I might switch gears and work on that.

So now let’s talk about the short story. What was the first short story that you wrote? How many words was it and did you intend for it to be a short when you first started writing it?

My first short story? That would be THE HAUNTING OF AMELIA PRITCHART. I was taken with an idea of writing a story about a ghost, and yes, it was intended to be a short from conception. At the time, I had zero publishing credits behind my name and I thought the easiest way to remedy that was to write a short, which is funny, because there’s nothing easy about it! I think it comes just under 15,000 words.

Do you think it’s harder to sell a short?

It’s not necessarily harder. You do the same amount of work with both long and short pieces. You invent the story line, plot the thing, write it, wrestle with it, edit and finally submit. However, I have heard a few publishers say it’s more difficult for them to sell a shorter work. Of course, other pubs say they like them because people want to read shorter pieces.

My short answer (pun intended) is to write it if you believe in it. If it’s a great piece, you’ll find a home for it.

How do you go about setting yourself up for a short write? This is where I fall into trouble. You have two characters, your hero and your heroine, and through the course of the story they need to fall in love and over come some sort of conflict. This is true regardless of the length of the work. Tell me how you choose your conflicts for a short versus a full-length novel?

For me, it’s all in the story that needs to be told. Shorts are no different that full-length pieces in that you have a beginning, a middle and an end. When writing a short piece, try to limit the external conflict and keep the issues to things between your H/H. Pretend like you’re stuck in an elevator with someone. You’re gonna like some things about the other person and some things you’re not. You need to find a way out of the elevator and also relate to that person. Bang, you have a story. The difference is, in the short, you’ll become untrapped and kiss the guy at the end. In a full-length, you’ll have added conflict. You’ll get out of the elevator, but then the building might be on fire. Someone else needs rescued. The hero does something stupid, etc. More conflict equals more word length.

What about the characters? Are they different in a short versus a full length?

There is no difference. You have a hero and a heroine. They have issues. They solve issues and relate to each other. The end.

Of course, if you’re like me and you want to keep your brain challenged, you add a dual plot line to the short, or an extra character that throws a wrench in the works.

In my Holiday Magic series, the central couple is my focus, but I’ll pull in secondary characters, blend them into the storyline without taking over the central plot.

I know you call yourself a ‘plotter’ meaning before you start out writing, you have outlined a great deal of the book whereas I am a ‘pantser’ meaning that most of the time I have no idea what’s going to happen when I write and I write by the seat of my pants, so to speak. Tell me about plotting a short story. Give me an example of how you’d do it.

I used to be like you—until my workload started getting busy. The final straw was when I got stuck in the middle of a book with nowhere to go. I sat down and plotted the thing out, rewrote a big chunk of the book and got to the end.

So, how to plot. What I like to do is write down the basis of a story. As much as I know at that time. Then, I go back in and plot/outline each chapter. Sometimes, if I’m on fire with a book, this can be accomplished all at once. Sometimes, I only know enough information to plot out several chapters each time. Regardless of how you do it, I think it’s important to get those facts and ideas on paper so you don’t forget and they’re always staring you in the face. That way, you’ll be more likely to dwell on the plot line.

Tell me something I’m not asking you, something I haven’t thought of that I have to know to write a good short story.

You have to have a good idea. The key I’ve found is to make the shorts unique. Give them an obscure twist so that people will be more likely to buy the shorts over someone else’s novel. Shorts are a great option if you don’t have a lot of time or you don’t have a huge plotline. Above all, make it fun. Don’t sweat that it’s a short. Once you get the formula down, it’s a snap.

But, trust me when I say, I’m not an expert at this stuff. Some of my work comes back marked up in red so that it resembles a victim of a horror flick. The only way you’re going to learn the art of the short is to get your hands dirty and practice.

Thank you Sandi, before I let you go, I would be remiss in not asking you how your muse is doing since you got back from Disney World and next time can I hide in your suitcase?

My muse rocks! The vacation was just what I needed—even if I did go kicking and screaming into relaxation. I’m ready to work again. And sure, stowaways are welcome!

Best to you


PS—Be sure to look out for Sandi on here tomorrow when it’s her turn to blog!!


LM Spangler said...

Great informative post, Sandra and Rebecca.

I can't imagine myself writing a short but with your advice, I might give a free standing story a try! Thanks for the advice.


Aidana WillowRaven said...

Romances are not usually my thing, but paranormal is. I may need to check it out.

Rebecca Royce said...

Liena, I think you should write one. I think you voice would translate beautifully into a short story.

Aidana, thank you for coming by. Sandi and I are both huge fans of Paranormal. For the most part, although they are romances, my stories are dark paranormals and Sandra writes funny ones.

Sandra Sookoo said...

Yes, I write funny paranormals. However, my most recent full length novel turned more toward the dark side. My werewolf didn't have much patience with comedy :-)

I use humor because, let's face it, life's funny. We may as well laugh :-)

Anonymous said...

excellent advice!
I think writing short stories is excellent as you say--it's a way to build up a resume and it's good too because you learn so much!
and then sometimes you might start out with a short and then it starts to turn into something bigger!
very good post, thoroughly enjoyed it!
also wanted to add, I READ THIS! Publishers realized that a lot of people read in short spurts==waiting for a train, on the train--waiting at the doctor's whatever and a short story fills the gap!

Rebecca Royce said...

I AGREE. I read them too. I love Anthologies and books that give us the chance to read short stories. The Mammoth Books have been great for that.
Thanks for coming by.

Unknown said...

I loved this advice ladies. I have several different short W.I.P. at the moment. Reading this has prompted me to build my third character into a villain from the piece I created over the weekend.

He basically had no purpose, and the heroine has kicked him to the curb for her hero. I believe I will make my third character a monkey in the wrench of their happily ever after. LOL

Thank you for this advice ladies.

Rebecca Royce said...

Hi Charisma,
Thanks for coming by. Sandi gives great writing advice. I've been trying to get her to compose a book on the subject or take up editing. I think she'd be a great editor. She's really made a study on the subject. That's why I was so excited she agreed to do this.
Bring that character back and let him create massive havoc. I think that would be awesome.

Sandra Sookoo said...

Thanks for the props, Rebecca. Do I give great advice? Don't know. I've just learned by trial and error. Still learning. :-) The one thing I do know that I love writing. Makes me happy.

J Hali Steele said...

Great post you guys! Sandi's information is spot on. I have a question for Sandi since she's done both short and full lengths - "Do you think writing shorts can be MORE difficult because you only have so many words to get it all 'out there'?"

Sandra Sookoo said...

Joann-on occasion, shorts can be more difficult. It really depends on the story that needs to be told. I've done some that practically wrote themselves. Others, it was a constant struggle to reign myself in.

I have a specific formula I use when doing shorts though so I don't fall out of line :-)

Rebecca Royce said...

What is the formula?

Sandy said...


I've got a couple of ideas for shorts, and it will be my first attempt at writing them. This was very helpful.


Annie Nicholas said...

Nice explaination Sandi.

Rebecca Royce said...

Hey Sandy,
Thanks for stopping by. I can't wait to see those shorts.


Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

Good advice, Sandi! I tried writing short but couldn't do it for the life of me, it always went long! So hats off to you!



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