Shelley Widhalm

Assembling a short story collection

In Writing, Writing Processes, Writing Short Stories on July 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

I’m trying a writing experiment, where I’m setting a dozen short stories in the same setting, hoping that the stories tie together toward some big climax and disaster.

Instead, I’ve gotten very observant about the coffee shop that serves as my setting and the characters in each individual story. The coffee shop is real but everything else is made up pantser style.

Each story has a nice little plot with the arc of beginning, middle and end.

Each story has a regular cast of characters with the dialog, dialog tags and interactions carrying the plot forward.

And each story has a narrator with a distinct voice, some in first or third person.

The problem is the stories aren’t coming together in a nice, pat plotline.

Instead, they are acting as separate stories not wanting to hang out with my other stories.

I’m a pantser writer, but I’d planned to have my stories move toward some great explosion at the end.  I’ve written 11 stories for the “collection” ranging from 700 to 15,000 words.

I set one of the stories around a barista who regularly shows up in several of the stories, but he became someone else, and I had to change his name from Aaron to Alex. Alex wasn’t such a nice guy. Aaron was, for the most part. Shana is another barista who regularly appears in the collection, retaining her B-word-iness throughout, so I’m happy about that. We’ve all got to have a B.

Here’s what I learned—and still need to do—about writing and assembling a collection of short stories:

  • Aim for at least 40,000 words.
  • Focus on a genre and stylistic approach, such as literary or commercial.
  • Keep the tone similar from story to story, or mix them up so something dark is next to something light.
  • Choose the best stories and don’t put in everything, because maybe the stories don’t fit or need more work.
  • Try to get one or two of those stories published.
  • Give the collection a title that shows how the stories tie together, such as using the title of the strongest story.
  • Start off and end with the strongest stories.
  • Mix the lengths from one story to the next, putting long next to short.

And write some more if there seems to be gaps in the unfolding of the stories, which need to have some element tying them together.

For me, that means getting back to writing and figuring out the great disaster.

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