I love to write short stories. Admittedly, they can be one of the hardest forms to write and perfect simply due to the shorter length which means not a word can be wasted. At the 2022 Bouchercon held in Minneapolis I attended an excellent panel on the topic, Get Lost in the Plot which discussed how to write plots of good short crime and mystery fiction. The members were:
Amber Roy – Moderator
All panel members offered excellent insights, tips, and suggestions of writer resources. What follows are key excerpts.
AR: Why do stories need external conflict?
BG: Always start with conflict and your character’s reaction to that conflict.
RR: Low-level conflict such as dialogue or a small event incident.
MD: Right, you could start with an event. For example, internal monologue affected the external events.
AR: The length of a short story is one of the important differences between the novel and short story. How do authors do this successfully?
RR: One question is ‘Can you condense the backstory into one sentence’? If an author can do this, they are good to go for writing a short story.
BG: Short stories are really about one thing. Subplots don’t have to take place in short stories, focus on one aspect. However, that one thing is not necessarily the ultimate end.
AR: There are themes and images that authors gravitate towards which may change over time. Can you provide examples of themes?
RR: I think the reader is the one who picks up on the themes. I myself don’t start out with a theme in mind.
RR: Save The Cat is a great resource on plotting versus pantsing (writing by the seat of your pants) and just seeing where the story take you.
AR: Do you plot a short story? I know I do.
TF: I think that depends on the type of story you’re writing. For example, puzzle mysteries will involve character development vs. plot. One way to determine what kind of story you’ll write is to make out a list of possible things that could happen in your story. It doesn’t have to be more than 10 scenarios.
RR: I personally don’t believe in writer’s block. I think it comes down to [perseverance and learning from life.
AR: There are many different idea about how a short mystery or crime fiction piece should end.
BG: There are ending where the story stops abruptly, but the reader knows what will happen. I suggest reading Art Taylors, “Premonition” as an example Other members mentioned readers feedback of not being happy the ending of a story did not bring complete closure.
The panel offered tips for those considering writing short mystery or crime stories:
Find fellow editors that you would like to write for and see what they like.
Read the best short mysteries and crime fiction.
Study the craft of writing.
Read all types of writing.
Write, write, write, and develop the writing muscle.
The panel also suggested good resources:
Short Fiction Mystery Society This is a blog, and there is also a main entry titled, Short Mystery Groups
Women’s World: publication is hot for fiction right now
Black Cat Mystery Magazine Note: Offers a smaller subscription package of 4 offering several options from online to paper form.
Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Note: For a reasonable price, you can order 12 copies of older Ellery Queen Mystery magazines. While the competition to be published here may be tough (some of the best crime and mystery writers from around the world) I have found reading these expert short stories is beneficial.
Happy writing and/or reading!