Sunday, April 26, 2009

Guest Blogger: Richard Ciciarelli

I've often heard authors talk about how they had to struggle to reach their publisher's required 80,000 word mark for a novel that wrapped up nicely at 72,000 words. Writers of micro short stories (1 to 1,000 words) face a different challenge. Today's guest blogger, noted micro short story author and interactive-mystery playwright, Richard Ciciarelli, explains.


More years ago than I care to remember I received for Christmas a Hardy Boys book. From that point on I was hooked on mysteries.

I graduated to Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie. John Dickson Carr, and Rex Stout, and finally, when I was a freshman in college, I decided I could write a mystery novel of my own.

As it turns out, that was a loftier goal than I was capable of attaining, but I have been moderately successful in the short story genre.

In 1979, Eleanor Sullivan, then editor of ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, accepted my short story “Drive a Hard Bargain” for publication. Since then I’ve had sixty-five of my stories and articles published in some of the country’s top mystery magazines and on-line mystery sites.

In those thirty years I’ve learned a few things about short stories.

First, and most obvious, they’re short. That means not a paragraph, sentence or word can be wasted. While a novelist might spend a page or two on a flashback scene to establish a character’s motivation, a short story writer doesn’t have that luxury. He must somehow, in a sentence or less, convey that same motivation. Words are at a premium.

For example, in my mini mystery “The Bookstore Robbery,” which appeared in the March 10, 2008, issue of Woman’s World, I originally wrote “A thought crossed Jacobs’ mind and a smile slowly spread across his face.” I changed that to read “Jacobs smiled as a thought crossed his mind.”

That saved five words, and saving five words in every paragraph would shorten the story by over 200 words. That might not sound like much, but Woman’s World has a 700 words limit, so 200 words represents well over a fourth of the story. That translates into more than 50 pages of a 200 page novel.

But word count is only one part of short story writing. I hope to be able to discuss more at a later time.

1 comment:

Vicki Delany said...

I have a great book titled The World's Shortest Stories of Love and Death. Each story is a maximum of 50 words. I read it often - it's a great guide to saying only what needs to be said.