I know, I know, I know … I’m in the middle of releasing “The Children of Lubrochius” so I should probably keep my eye on one target at a time. But I couldn’t resist. This week I uploaded a collection of three short stories to both Amazon and Smashwords. The title of the collection is “Of Dragons, Love, and Poison.” I kind of dig that title. Here’s a look at the cover:
And here’s some of the backcopy for each short story:
Of Dragons, Love, and Poison: The king’s daughter and her younger brother have vanished and the warrior Thrigon is tasked with finding them. Can he unravel the web of lies and dark magic surrounding their abduction? Or will he find himself a victim to the same power that claimed them?
The Red Archer: Return to the land of Athron in this exciting tale that pits the world’s greatest archer against a master thief.
Fate Unchained: In this tale, a young prince is denied his birthright by an inauspicious augury. Now an adult, the young prince must confront his younger brother for the crown of the kingdom and its ultimate fate.
The art of writing a short story is distinctly different from writing a novel. There is far less “room” in a short story than a novel; you must make every word count, particularly if you are up against a tight word count. The story must be unified by a single theme or over-arching idea; there is no room for subplots and parallel memes. Depending on the genre, the notion of a twist is also quite prevalent. In fantasy literature, for example, there must be something in the story that takes it an unexpected direction, or flips our expectations upon their head. A piece of clean prose that tells a simple straightforward tale will not cut it. Nowadays, there is a requisite of something unusual, something that makes one look at the story from a clever angle.
One is also limited by characters and viewpoints in the short story. Generally, the writer is limited to a single viewpoint with but one protagonist and one antagonist. There might be a couple other minor characters, but they will be few in number and their roles hardly substantive.
A novel is an altogether different animal. While it is true, that there is usually a central theme for any great literary work, there also can be sub-themes and sub-plots and what have you. These can be developed throughout the course of the work, because there is no word-limit on a novel (although length of a novel certainly is no indicator of quality). Complex literary devices like symbolism and such can be fully employed in a novel; one has plenty of room to develop and expand upon such concepts. In the fantasy genre, the novel, like the short story, must be more than a straightforward tale. We are drawn to the unusual and the surprising. Because of its greater length, the novel has room for multiple twists, each one eliciting a pleasant burst of “ahh!” from the reader. A story of a brave knight rescuing a princess from a dragon no longer cuts it today.
In the fantasy novel, multiple viewpoints and plotlines have become almost standard practice. Rare is the novel with but a single protagonist these days.
So which one will you write? For myself, I’ve gone back and forth. I’ve written a number of short stories, with a few minor publishing successes. However, I got into writing to write novels not short stories. Short stories are great to hone your craft, to figure out the intricacies of fusing dialogue with narrative and what-have-you. And I don’t regret the time I’ve spent on short stories—I even have a number of short story ideas that will probably never come to fruition—but I have decided that I want to focus on novels. Besides, short stories don’t pay enough to support a writer. They exist to fluff the resume. And they are great for honing your craft. But, in my opinion, that is all they can do.
Twisted ancient gods, demonic plant men, or wild creatures from the darkest deeps of the earth… where do such things come from? A fantasy writer’s mind, of course; but does that do it justice? Creativity is a strange thing. The muse comes and goes. Sometimes it lies dormant for weeks… months, even years, then you get a surge and the ideas start coming. Professional writers, though, don’t have the luxury of waiting for it. No, they must get inspiration for their work on a regular basis. How is it done?
For myself, I seek inspiration from a number of sources. My short story, “The River’s Eye,” for example started when I was at my uncle’s house and caught sight of an interesting picture on his wall. It showed a house, a small stream, and a young woman with an umbrella by the stream. There was a certain feel to the picture; a certain ambiance. I looked at it for a while, and ideas began to percolate in my mind for a story. I could imagine the young woman looking for stones on the banks of the river. What if one of those stones had mythic powers? What if something strange lived in the water? The ideas kept coming, and before you knew it, I had the idea for the story. I started with the title, “The River’s Eye” and the story grew up around it.
That is one of my more common inspirations for stories: beatific scenes portrayed in paintings. But there are others, from the feeling I get from a song—something I feel can be expressed in greater detail in a story—to the very ambiance of the very real weather on a particular day. Visual arts tend to be the most effective for me: posters, paintings, even the covers of other books. I formed an idea of what the story behind the “Dragonriders of Pern” by Anne McCaffrey would be based on the cover. The actual books were completely different from my idea, but I still have that germ of a notion, that perhaps someday I will expand into a full length story. So art can feed art, and the creative muse can find inspiration almost anywhere.
Another powerful source of inspiration—although, again, it is primarily visual—is dreams. The subconscious is a powerful thing. Not only can dreams provide the kernel (or perhaps even the bulk) of a story, they can help to iron out wrinkles you’ve encountered in the writing process. Sometimes, a night spent in the Sandman’s domain is enough to figure out just how your character is going to escape her predicament, foil the bad guys, and save the day.
Last, but not least, is the process of stream of consciousness writing. Sometimes it helps to just sit down at the computer, open a document, and let your fingers take on a life of their own. I haven’t used this technique often, but it works. Sometimes I don’t even begin writing words; I’m so frustrated I pound letters like “lalskjhar, dljjdtrlckdm.” And on and on… eventually I get bored with that and start typing actual words. Perhaps, I’ll begin with just a phrase or two, but sooner or later, I’ll be pounding out concrete story ideas.
Anyway, those are a few of the places I get inspiration from for my fantasy writing. I’m sure there are other methods. What about you?