Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Writing Short Stories’

Short story ‘Quiet Refusal’ publishes in ‘RISE’

In Northern Colorado Writers, Quiet Refusal, RISE, RISE An Anthology of Change, Short Fiction, Short Stories, Writing, Writing Short Stories on November 3, 2019 at 11:00 am

1104 Blog-Rise

Shelley Widhalm’s short story “Quiet Refusal” is one of the featured creative works in Northern Colorado Writers’ new anthology, “RISE.”

Northern Colorado Writers will celebrate Nov. 8 the launch of its new anthology “RISE, An Anthology of Change” at the local Gilded Goat Brewing Co.

My short story, “Quiet Refusal,” was among the short fiction, narrative nonfiction/ memoir, and poetry selected via juried entries for the anthology—more than 35 writers have their work featured.

My work is a 2,500-word story about a 93-year-old woman named Christina Walker who believes her children refuse to listen to her need not to be sent to an assisted living facility.

It starts with these words: “I absolutely refuse to move into that assisted living place. I’ve been around too long to have people tell me what to do with my life, especially my own children. I raised them to have manners, and here I am lying in this nursing home with my muscles not obeying my mind, my mouth swallowing my words, and my brain not letting them come together into sentences. I keep telling the nurses where I want to go—just the one word I can get out—pronouncing the “h” with a long, stuttering sound, so my house becomes h-ho-ome.”

Short Story Inspiration

I wrote the story because my mother lives in an assisted living facility, so I have familiarity with the setting, but also because the character came to me full of a big personality but without much of a voice, as she struggles to get out her words.

I visit my mom every other week and feel my heart break a little as I watch seniors with dementia struggle to find their rooms and those with health conditions shuffle as they walk. I usually bring along my dog, Zoey, a 12-pound, long-haired miniature dachshund, and I get stopped for requests to pet her. It’s almost like she’s a therapy dog as the residents smile and tell stories about their own pets.

I’m rambling, yes, but the main point is, please join me and the other writers as we celebrate this new publication. The book is up for the 2020 Colorado Book Awards, and royalties from its sale will help support a new RISE scholarship for aspiring writers to be able to attend the annual NCW conference for free.

“I’m so excited to share this book with, well, everyone in the wide world,” said Amy Rivers, director of NCW, in a letter to the authors about the publication. “It’s full of really inspiring and entertaining pieces.”

Launch Party Details

The 2019 RISE! Anthology Launch Party/ Holiday Celebration will be 6-9 p.m. at the Gilded Goat, 3500 S. College Ave., No. 194, in Fort Collins, Colo. There will be food, drinks and merriment, along with books for sale at a special event rate and authors available to sign their works. The event is free.

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.

Flash fiction vs. short stories

In Flash Fiction, Short Fiction, Short Stories on May 8, 2016 at 11:00 am

I love the term flash fiction, because it makes me think of storytelling that is quick and flashy.

It’s writing that is short, descriptive and to the point but deceptively complex in its tightness.

Flash fiction is a micro or mini version of a short story, though the length varies depending on the publication. It can be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 words or even 1,500 words, while short stories are defined as 1,000 to 10,000 words.

An ultra short story, flash fiction is a style of fiction of extreme brevity with a definable plot pared down to the core of the story. It’s called micro-fiction, micro-story, skinny fiction, fast fiction, furious fiction, postcard fiction, short short, short short story and sudden fiction. It’s part poetry and part narrative.

To successfully write flash fiction, avoid fragmented storytelling. Tell a complete story with the traditional format of beginning, middle and end, making every word essential, without the extras. Retain the elements of storytelling, because otherwise it will become a snippet of a moment of a larger story or an episode without a theme or story.

I find that it’s best to write flash fiction in one sitting with one idea for a character or plot and work from there. Ask if there’s a point to the story, but don’t get too focused on theme. And write when you are in your own emotional moment, getting words out without worrying about word count.

Begin at the moment of conflict when most of the action is nearly complete, avoiding any kind of introduction or back story. Make sure every conversation, action and gesture is important to the telling of the story. Focus on powerful images. And end with an emotional impact.

Once the piece is finished, here are some tricks to tighten and polish the work:

  • Get rid of adjectives and adverbs.
  • Get rid of unnecessary sentences and descriptions.
  • Make sure every conversation, action and gesture is important to the story.

And remember, what’s left out is just as important. Be concise. Keep the essential details. Cut the rest.

(Note: I recycled this blog from a year ago, because I am so behind with my personal writing and editing projects that I didn’t have time to blog this week. I have a deadline for one of my projects at the end of May.)

Short story challenge

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on October 19, 2014 at 11:00 am

I find writing short stories more challenging than going for the long haul of writing a novel.

A short story requires you to get in, get out and do it in a way that brings in all of the story elements—plot, character, setting and dialog—without boring the reader. With a novel, you can take your time—but not too much—setting up the igniting spark, storyline, theme, character identities and other story elements.

The length of a short story varies from 1,000-5,000 words or anything or up to 10,000 words, depending on the publication or publishing house doing the defining. Generally, anything less than 1,000 words is considered flash fiction.

Novels are 50,000 words or more, or average 75,000 to 90,000 words.

Because of their length, novels need to sustain readers’ interest over several reading sessions, while a short story can be consumed in one sitting in a few minutes or a couple of hours.

Because of limited space, a short story focuses on a specific time, place, event and interaction. The timeframe typically covers days or weeks, and the setting cannot be in too many places.

Short stories typically begin with a crisis or conflict, getting to the point right away, lacking the time or space for long setups. They have one or a few characters and present a snapshot into the lives of those characters, avoiding long character histories and descriptions.

Also when writing short stories, consider the following:

• Show, don’t tell with the action.
• Use first or third-person, or two characters shifting point of view.
• Express a single theme, or message to get across to the readers.

Essentially, think of a short story as a scene or two that tells an entire story in a quick-to- consume fashion.

See how Zoey the Cute Dachshund approaches short story writing at her blog,

Writing Short Stories Simplified

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 2, 2012 at 11:00 am

Deciding among the shoes to pack for a trip requires the same approach as does writing short stories.

Take only the essentials and not a pair for every possible season and whimsy.

Writing short stories, like packing shoes, is done in a small space confined to the basic elements of storytelling.

The length of a short story varies depending on the writer, editor or publishing house doing the defining. The definitions I’ve found describe short stories as 1,000-5,000 words or anything up to 7,500 words or up to 10,000 words.

Because there are fewer words, a short story has to be limited to a specific time, place, event and interaction.

Whereas a novel can span a day or a year or more, a short story’s timeframe typically covers days or weeks. The short story cannot include too many places or events without feeling strained or scattered, or like a list.

A novel, because it is larger scale, offers more pages to develop ideas, plot, character and theme. At most, a short story can handle a plot and a small subplot, or a plot and a half.

Short stories get to the point and don’t have the time or space for long setups. They begin with a crisis or conflict right away and avoid describing how the conflict came about.

Stories, as a snapshot into the lives of the characters, avoid long character histories and descriptions. They have a few characters, so that the reader can identify with each character and keep them straight. Too many, and the story can become confusing.

Here are a few other rules about writing short stories (though rules are made to be broken, of course):

* Show, don’t tell with the action.

* Use one or very few settings.

* Use first or third-person, or two characters shifting point of view.

* Express a single theme, or message to get across to the readers.

Novels, which are 50,000 words or more from the definitions I’ve seen, include more material – characters, settings, plots and details – to sustain readers’ interest over several reading sessions, unless they are willing to sit for hours or an entire day. A short story, alternatively, can be consumed in one sitting in a few minutes or a couple of hours.

(Note: Last week, I talked about poetry as I spend a few weeks on different types of writing for my blog, 52: A Year of Writing Basics, Beliefs and Beauty. I won’t cover the types of writing I haven’t tried, like screenplays and plays, but will touch on my favorites, including personal essays, memoirs and news articles.)