The Fun of Short Fiction

by Gail Z. Martin

Q:  Other than word count, what’s the biggest difference between writing “big fat fantasy” novels and short stories.

A:  In a novel that runs 500 or more pages, there’s a lot of room for setting the stage, introducing readers to characters, and building the world.  It’s a very immersive experience for the reader.  Even when everything is action-packed, you can create more of a wrap-around feeling for the reader, where they really feel like they’re in your world.  With a short story that might only run 30 pages, you’ve got the equivalent of two book chapters to tell a self-contained story.  You’ve got to use a different style of writing to make your characters real and give your readers enough of a sense of the world that they care about the story.  It’s the difference between going on vacation for a month and just getting away for the weekend.

Q:  How do the differences between epic novels and short stories affect how to build characters or develop a fictional world?

A:  With short stories, because you have smaller word count, you’ve got to be very precise.  You have to decide which details are essential to help the reader paint a mental picture, and which details you can skip and still have the reader see the same story that you’ve envisioned.  You have a much bigger canvas with a full novel, especially an epic novel, which gives that type of story a richness and a total immersion feeling.  Even if you’re sharing a completely alien civilization or a totally different time period, in a short story you have to be very selective with every description, every verb choice, every conversation.  It’s a different type of writing discipline.

Q:  Is it difficult to switch between epic novels and short stories?

A:  I started writing short stories because I enjoyed the challenge, and because writing something that’s around eight to ten thousand words when I’m used to writing a story in 150 thousand words scared me to death.  Now that I’ve done it a few times, it’s becoming more comfortable, and I’ve had enough chances to play in the world I’ve created for my short stories that I’m familiar with the territory.  It definitely is a different writing style.  One of the other differences for me is that while I write my epic fantasy in third-person, my short stories have all been first-person.  That also makes a big difference in what you as an author can share with readers because the third-person books with an ensemble cast can share multiple viewpoints and more information, but a first-person point of view is limited to what just one character knows or sees.  So it’s a challenge!

Q:  Is there more short fiction to come?

A: Absolutely!  I’d like to do some short story series set in my Chronicles of the Necromancer/Fallen Kings Cycle world, maybe some between-the-scenes adventures that weren’t in the books, or some stories that happen earlier before the series began.  I’m also really enjoying my Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy world I’ve created in the stories I’ve done for anthologies, and I plan to write more of those—for anthologies and for direct release on my web site and through Amazon.

In fact, I’ve got stories in two brand new anthologies that have just come out: Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane and The Mammoth Book of Women’s Ghost Stories.  You can read excerpts here:

Please enjoy this excerpt from my short story, “Among the Shoals Forever”, excerpted from The Mammoth Book of Women’s Ghost Stores:

And this scene from “Buttons”, excerpted from Magic:


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