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How to Write a Series of Short Stories
Why Write a Series of Short Stories?
Writing short stories can be lucrative, but it's a hard sell to expect a reader to pay for standalone shorts. Even pricing them at a low cost such as $0.99 can be a hard sell. (Standalones in general are a hard sell for indie authors, but that's a whole other topic.)
The solution then is to write a series of short stories that all work together to make one large story. There are two ways to do this, either as a serial (an ongoing story from one book to the next - kind of like a television series), or as books connected via characters, setting, plot or theme, as a true series would be.
Lots of short stories can equal one long story
Create a series of 'episodes'
You know how a regular television series runs, with a mini plot in each episode and a larger overarching plot over the season. That's how a good short story series should work - with each story having it's own drama and action that culminates in a climax, but also has a larger plot that works over a series of books.
You can either keep the story running in one long continuous story - like Breaking Bad - or each story has a definate start and end and it doesn't matter where you jump in - like Law & Order.
It's up to you how you'd like to proceed. Whether the 'standalone' series works better for you, or you'd prefer to write more in a serial fashion where each story ends on a cliffhanger ready for the next one. (This can be a good way to keep readers hooked).
Just remember that some readers love cliffhangers, while others hate them. Still, I can't deny that they do sell more books in the series as long as the rest of the story satisfies your reader.
If you prefer writing short (and the thought of a novel scares you), then writing a series is the best way of keeping readers hooked. It's much easier to sell five books to one person, than sell one book to five people.
How Many Stories?
You might now be wondering how many stories you should include in your series. Of course there are a number of variables than you need to consider and it's a good idea to work this out before you start writing.
While a television series might have twelve or more episodes in a season, writing that many short stories can be daunting. A good base to aim for is at least three, although five, seven or even ten can be better. It also comes down to whether the story resonates with readers and they continue buying (in which case you can keep adding new books indefinately as long as you still like writing the story), or whether you want to wrap up the series and start a new one.
You also need to determine what publishing schedule you'd like. You could either write the whole series at once and drop them in one go, or you can stagger them, bringing out the series on a regular schedule such as weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Obviously that relies on how fast you can write them, how long they are, and how eager your reader is for the next in series.
Also, down the track when sales start to fall off, you can bundle them up into one 'complete' story and publish that for renewed interest and new readers.
If you do create a bundle, then make it a good deal for readers by offering it cheaper than it would cost to buy the individual books seperately. People like to get value for money and there are readers out there that look exclusively for bundles and collections.
How to Write a Short Story
Obviously now you've got an interest in writing a set of shorts because the idea of writing a novel is indimidating (or you just want a break from a full length novel for a while). So how do you write one?
Generally the same plot structure that apply to novels also apply to short stories, although often certain plot points can be condensed or eliminated. Still, most stories still follow a three act structure, no matter their length.
One thing that separates short stories though is that they are usually focused on a single plot or character, rather than having a whole bunch of sub plots and characters all vying for attention.
They are usually tighter in action and emotion with no words wasted. Basically you need to jump right into the story and get things moving quickly rather than build up to where things get interesting.
Choose a Point of View Narrative & Character
Your first decision is what narrative point of view you are going to choose. The two most common views are 'first person' where the story is written through the eyes of your main character, or 'third person' where you write about the thoughts and observations of many different characters.
Whichever narrative that you choose, it still makes sense to have just one main character - your protagonist, for which the main plot of the book will revolve around.
Once you've decided on your protagonist, it's time to create something to write about. And the best way to do this is to create a conflict that he or she needs to overcome by the end of the story.
There are many different types of conflict that you could choose including:
- conflicts between different characters, the most common being a good guy versus bad guy battling it out;
- an internal dilemma, where the hero might have to do something that goes against what they believe;
- a natural disaster that causes a problem for the hero or those he/she loves;
- a problem with society or community, whether that might be as simple as change in the law to something extreme like being taken to a different world and having to adjust; or
- religious or fate based conflicts, in which the protagonist is unaware of their destiny and how they deal with it.
Don't worry too much about how silly or farfetched the problem you create for your character might be, as long as your keep your CHARACTER real and believable, which includes making them react in realistic ways and talking good dialogue, the situation often becomes much more believable.
Short Story 8 Point Arc
Increase the Tension
Building tension is the key to good stories, and the best way to do this is to have your main character have some attempts to solve their problem, but fail. It could even be that their decisions make the situation worse, until right at the end when they finally come up with the solution that saves the day.
It's usually the last crisis that forms the catalyst where the hero must show their true colours that makes a good climax and resolution for your story.