- When I haven't as much time as I'd like for a decent reading session, a short story fills the gap.
- There's a huge range of magazines, anthologies etc to both write for and to enjoy as a reader.
- Short stories are great both in print and online form. (So, to be fair, are novels, but I think short stories work better on mobile phones etc. Short seems to suit the medium better but this may just be me here).
- There are far more competitions for short stories than novels and entry fees, where applicable, are cheaper.
- Short stories can often be extended and become the starting point of a novel.
- I love the idea of short stories being a snapshot in time. A good short story lingers in the memory and, frankly, it is easier to recall a short tale rather than a novel. Much as I love The Lord of the Rings, there is no way I'm memorizing every part of that epic whereas I do recall favourite short stories far more easily.
- Short story publication acceptances can make for quite an impressive listing on the writing CV and can be a great way of showing your commitment to writing.
WHY I LOVE SHORT STORIES
Fairytales are wonderfully flexible in terms of being perfect for stories of varying lengths. I love short stories, including fairytales, for all sorts of reasons, some of which are:-
FAIRY TALE BELIEFS
The sensible fairy tale characters share the following beliefs:-
RETURNING TO WORK
Returning to work after a welcome and refreshing break is never easy. Indeed I find it is usually the Monday after such a break that's the hardest day to get through. But how do your characters react to a return from any adventure/holiday you send them on in the course of your stories?
One thing I loved about The Lord of the Rings was right at the end when Frodo tries to get back to a normal life and fails. Sam, on the other hand, succeeds. What I think is rightly recognised here is that neither can possibly be the same again after all they've been through and that there are some wounds that are impossible to (a) pretend never happened and (b) overcome.
So what do your characters do here? Can they settle back down, while acknowledging what happened to them, as Sam did? Or do they need to go right away from everything as Frodo finds he must do? (I trust that doesn't spoil the book for anyone and have deliberately not said more but what happens to Sam and Frodo here is the best example I can think of as to how two characters return from something they didn't think they would return from and find they do have to try to make new lives for themselves after all).
Is migration (of wildlife and humans/humanoid/other sapient beings) a normal part of your setting? This can be everything from holidays (people travel whatever distance they fancy for their vacation) to having to live in different parts of the world at different times due to seasonal changes making this necessary.
Does your world see migration happening as a result of what we would term refugee crises? What happened to trigger these? (There’s probably a series of novels to be written just answering that question alone!).
In terms of wildlife, which creatures migrate and where do they go? Is this an annual event or something that perhaps happens once once or twice in a lifetime?
Does your world allow its residents to migrate to other worlds, Earth even (possibly suitably disguised to avoid comment!)? And if so, do any of the residents take this offer up? What is the outlook on other ways of living?
GUESS THE FAIRYTALE!
clues you are in a magical world
Who are the characters that fascinate you the most and what is it about them that makes them fascinating to you?
For me, it is always the characters who have depth to them, who are not purely good or evil but know they make mistakes and surprise me with what they come out with sometimes. When I first started writing about my rebellious fairy godmother, Eileen, I had not planned initially that she had a good relationship in childhood and early adulthood with the Chief Witch, who went on to create the havoc Eileen is fighting against at the time of The Trouble With Mother.
But I am glad I came out with that. Eileen shows she is not biased against someone just because they are a witch. The Witch shows she was capable of getting on with others different to her too. I can then explore what went wrong (and indeed do so).
So do you know your characters as well as you think you do? What surprises are they capable of unleashing on you as their creator as well as on the other characters in the story? How do they develop? How can you show them learning from their mistakes?
RULES AND REGULATIONS
Every fictional world has to have its rules and regulations given anarchy would, ultimately, destroy it. But there are always those who don’t take kindly to said rules and regulations because (a) they’re criminal, (b) they genuinely feel the rules and regulations are unjust (your stories could explore whether they’re right or not) and (c) your character is a rebel who prefers to think of themselves as a free thinker. Naturally their free thinking will go along the lines that the rules and regulations couldn’t possibly apply to them.
How do the authorities enforce the rules and regulations? What is the justice system in your fictional world? Is it a fair one? Can rules and regulations be repealed? My Eileen challenges rules she feels are unfair. Who does this in your setting? Are they successful?
Most rules and regulations are self explanatory (is anyone going to approve of murder?) but what about the ones that are not, the historical anachronisms? How did they come about and why are they still on the statute book?
It doesn’t matter which world you’re in, whether you write fiction or non-fiction, spying is a fact of life. So on your fictional world(s) who does this and what do they hope to gain? Are they lone operatives or answerable to a government? What is the person they’re spying on doing to try to prevent this? Who does the listening in? Are they aware they’re being spied on or of the possibility of it?
Does your government plant false information for spies to pick up and use this as an entrapment? Eileen, when still working for the Fairy Queen, helped her set up protective charms around the Palace to prevent this. And despite various attempts to break these spells, none have succeeded.
Eileen in her foul fiend fighting role also takes on the more obvious actions of a government agent but there are those behind the scenes backing her up with information and so on. Who would do this in your fictional world? What back up would they have? Who are the enemies of the world you’re writing about and how did that enmity come about?
Up for the challenge then?!
How does your fictional world show the different species co-operating (or trying to do so?)? Or do all efforts fail and if so why? If your world had a history of infighting and wars, how was all of that stopped and who did so?
Are historical events, usually wars, commemorated in any way? Does it take special occasions to bring species together or are good relationships developing anyway?
Equally where different species are at loggerheads, do individual members of those species defy convention by becoming good friends, maybe more than that? (A kind of alien Romeo and Juliet could develop here!).
In government, is anyone of the political/royal classes prepared to cross divides to set a good example to the rest of the realm?
If your fictional world is threatened externally, does that overcome prejudices and barriers and bring species together to fight the common enemy?
I think there are questions fairy tale characters never did get to answer in the classic tales.
Some of these are:-
I doubt these questions are going to be answered any time soon but think they are fair enquiries!
All fictional worlds will have inventions similar or the same to what we know on Earth and those that are unique to them. So what would be your world's unique inventions and inventors? Are they encouraged in their work or are they considered dangerous (not everybody welcomes new things after all)?
In particular in a magical world, are inventions based on machinery or anything non-magical welcomed or considered to be an aberration? Where do your inventors find their ideas? What support do they get?
Do your inventors regret anything they've come up with? Are they rewarded for their inspiring ideas? Do their inventions come with a price? So many developments often have high prices in terms of lives lost and so on (I'm thinking of the navvies who carved out railway lines and tunnels, just how many of them died doing this?), so what would the prices be in your fictional setting?
VISITORS WHO ARE WELCOME
Following on from yesterday's post, sometimes fictional worlds receive visitors who are welcome, who benefit the places they visit and/or come to the aid of a world under threat.
What species are these visitors? Why did they come to your fictional world? Are they on a mission? How do they benefit the places they visit? How do they deal with threats to themselves or those they are trying to help?
How do they break down cultural differences between the world they come from and the one they're visiting? (There are bound to be some, even if one of the reasons they visit your world is, say, a shared past).
What special skills do the visitors have? (Which are unique to them and not to be found on your main story world?). Does the world they try to help benefit them in any way? Are there any mixed motives behind their helpfulness? (Nobody's perfect after all).
Unwelcome visitors turn up in any universe so who would count as this in your fictional world? Are they a threat and if so, are they an external threat to the whole of your fictional realm, or are they the "standard" pain in the neck to those they specifically turn up to see?
If the unwelcome visitors are a threat to your entire fictional world, how did this come about? Where are they from? What are the historical clashes between that world and the one you write about? Equally if they're a new threat, what made them decide to pick on your world? What assets does it have the unwelcome visitors may want to steal?
On an individual level, who do your unwelcome visitors pick on and why? Have your "victims" done anything to deserve this? How are the unwelcome visitors got rid of again? What trouble do they stir up? How would your fictional government deal with unwelcome visitors who threaten their existence? (That kind of visitor is nearly always after a complete take over and they're unlikely to pension the previous regime off!).
Monsters come in all shapes and forms. The worst ones are those who do not appear to be monsters but act in monstrous ways.
So how does this happen in your fictional setting? How do the monsters develop in such a way they can threaten others? Who tackles those threats? What is the impact of those monsters and how can others recover from that/limit the damage? How can the monsters hide what they really are as they develop their scheming? And what is it they are ultimately seeking to achieve?
As for the more obvious monsters, do they threaten others because they themselves are threatened and feel the need to fight for their right to exist? Shrek is a good example of this theme.
And what about those who despair at the damage done by monsters? How can they overcome that despair to reach out to help those who've been hit the worst by these creatures? What acts of sympathy/heroism here can develop your other characters and add depth to your story?
I find it difficult at times to prioritize the different forms of writing I do. I get there in the end but don't always get the order right first go! And characters won't always prioritize correctly either. So what would the consequences be? The more important your character the more likely the consequences could be severe.
How do your characters prioritize? What happens to those characters who generally "wing it"? That latter tendency is likely to irritate other characters so what is the fall out from that?
My Eileen tends to prioritize in terms of how dangerous a situation is. Anything life threatening gets immediate priority. It is difficult to argue with that one! The Queen likes to see one job through before going on to another one, which is fine a lot of the time but not in emergencies. Eileen finds it much easier to adapt and to change priorities as situations develop.
Can other characters exploit someone's inability to be flexible and use it against them?
Eileen considers meeting a deadline to be getting through another day of foul fiend fighting and surviving to have another go the next day!
So what would your characters' main priority be? And do they achieve it?
My current Chandler's Ford Today post is part 1 of a mini series about journeys from my local railway station. This one is about York and the National Railway Museum. Highly recommend it as a place to visit as it combines two of my loves, trains and stories and the Museum is full of stories of the development of train travel.
So in a fictional setting, what counts as a day out? What museums would there be? Does anyone collect, say, magical antiquities and store them somewhere for people to look at? Or are they considered too dangerous to store like that (someone might try to use them after all)?
My Fairy Queen collects art and photographic landscapes from different planets she has visited and occasionally opens this up as an exhibition for people to visit.
What history is commemorated in your fictional world? Why is this considered important? What aspects of history does your world ignore or suppress? (The Queen will not discuss Eileen's versions of royal fairy family history and feels the less said about her cousin's criticism of royal behaviour the better).
One of the things that confirmed to me I was on the right lines with my character development is when I found some of my characters taking me by surprise with their attitudes to other characters. For example, my rebellious fairy godmother, Eileen, should be diametrically opposed to the Chief Witch, especially when the latter starts causing havoc in the Fairy Kingdom.
But Eileen doesn't react like that. She is not blind to the faults of her own royal house and realises that the Witch does have reasons to be resentful. Eileen's attitude here does not go down well with anyone. Much as the populace love her for her down to earth manner and courage in fighting foul fiends for them, they do think she's wrong here. And the Queen is forthright about just how wrong Eileen is. Doesn't make Eileen change her views though.
So how do your characters surprise you? How do they develop their own life (in a way you may not originally have planned)? Is what they come up with better than what you'd originally planned (if so, go with it!)? How do they interact with other characters? Do they live up to society expectations or rebel against them (and what are the consequences of this)?
Your characters should have good reasons to have the relationships they have and should be able to justify those relationships, if only to themselves.
There are so many things a writer doesn't want/need to hear. Here are some of them!
Ironically some fairytale characters do not live for that long (not many big, bad wolves are send to rehab to get help with their "issues"!) but the story structure itself has a long history and will continue to survive. Why?
Perseverance is a common theme in the classic fairytales. For example, a hero/heroine often has to carry out a task three times before success comes (Jack and the Giant Beanstalk is the first tale that springs to my mind here). A hero/heroine is expected to show determination to do the right thing and not to give up.
So in what ways do your characters show perseverance? My Eileen and Hanastrew show a great deal of this quality, along with courage, in tackling foul fiends, dragons and so on. But Eileen is equally determined to keep on doing the right thing even if it does annoy her cousin, the Fairy Queen, and her Council. So Eileen persists, prior to her defection, with asking the kind of awkward questions she knows should be asked and will not back down from doing this. Courage and perseverance take many forms.
What are the consquences of your characters' perseverance? What happens to those characters who cannot carry on any longer and give up? Who is trying to get in your characters' way and why? Who finds the perseverance of others to be a threat, directly or otherwise? What do they do about it?
I can't think of any writer who can get away without perseverance as I think it is the only thing to help against rejections, negative criticism and so on. We need something to keep us going - and so do our characters.
Travelling in my magical setting is by transporter tree, broomstick, the instant transport spell or boot power, depending on the skills and magical talent of the being concerned. Naturally those with the most powers have the easiest and safest ways of travelling. Everyone else has to do what they can and take the risks!
Machines are not used in my fictional setting (though I wouldn't rule out someone inventing something or pinching an idea from Earth here as my world happily steals ideas it likes the look of).
How does travel work in your world(s)? Is it reliant on magic alone, machines alone or both? Is travel restricted to those of a certain class or limited to certain hours? Why are these restrictions in place and who set them?
Are animals used for travel and how were they trained to do this if so? Does anyone rebel against the restrictions and what are the consequences? How are travel arrangements funded?
Is there a Highway Code or other guidance travellers have to follow? Is travel a comfortable business or something most dread?
Answers to these questions could trigger stories in themselves but would certainly give background to your world building and help make it seem more realistic given the joys and pains of travelling would be something most of us can identify with.
I'm Allison Symes and I write novels, short stories as well as some scripts and poems. I love setting my work in my magical world, the Fairy Kingdom, and my favourite character is Eileen, who believes hypocrisy is something that happens to other people without caring that statement is hypocritical in itself! Eileen is huge fun to write for and about.