A Whiff of a Treat and a Bit of a Cheat

One benefit of being published by a new, small independent press, is that you get to wear many hats. Second Wind Publishing is preparing an anthology of mystery/crime short stories to be released in September, and as a pinch-hitting copy editor, I get first look. I enjoyed Lazarus Barnhill’s novels, The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday, so last night I printed out Barnhill’s story, “A Whiff of Murder” for a treat.

It’s been a very long time since I considered reading a treat. I still read prodigiously — it’s more than a habit with me, it’s akin to breathing — but I don’t necessarily enjoy it. (It’s like breathing polluted air, you need it, but it isn’t something you look forward too.) But I was right  –- “A Whiff of Murder” was a treat. It’s a fun story, with great detecting,  a touch of irony, and good characters (Barnhill brought back Robert Vessey from The Medicine People). All in less than 5,000 words.

Now I have to figure out how to write my own story. I have a beginning, though it’s a bit of a cheat. I wrote it for an online writing challenge —  to hook readers with the first 650 words of a novel. Since I had no intention of ever writing the novel, I just tossed out the most preposterous scenario I could think of. It wouldn’t really make a good novel — the humor would wear thin — but it would make a good short story. So now all I need is a middle and an end. And a touch of mystery. Or a crime. And some suspense. Hmmmm. Should be fun.

You’re welcome to join the fun. Second WindPublishing is sponsoring a short story contest, and the winner will be published in the anthology. You can find the information here: Murder in the Wind.

Let me know how you do. Maybe together we can figure out how to write a short mystery worthy of publication.

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Tips For Writing a Short Story

Second Wind Publishing is putting together an anthology of mystery/crime stories, and my publisher told me that my fans expect a story from me. My fans? All two of them? I doubt they’d care. Still, I considered writing a handful of 100-word stories, but to be honest, it’s hard to write a mystery in so few words. By the time I kill someone off, drop some clues, create a dectective to figure out who did the dastardly deed and why, I’ll have used up 100 words several times over.

Thinking perhaps it’s time to expand my literary horizons — all I’ve been writing lately are blogs, comments, and emails — I decided to give a short story some thought. But how does one write a short story? I went looking for tips, and found this great list at Happy Woman Magazine:

Never write about what you know, that would be boring. Instead think of an interesting skinny person that you know and try to imagine their life.

Use the word therefore a lot. It gives the impression that you have thought things through and therefore gives you an air of authority. (See what we mean?)

If you have trouble coming up with an ending or tying up loose ends pretend it was all a dream.

Your hero (or heroine) should have an interesting quirk or a dark mysterious past. They should also have blazing eyes when they are angry.

Don’t worry about spelling or grammar, that is what an editor is paid to do. You are an artist.

Though these suggestions are supposed to be funny, it did help me. I don’t want to write a mystery story, but I could write a spoof of one, or if not a spoof, something silly. Should be fun. Still, I’d have to follow the real tips for writing a short story, which are:

Have a clear theme.

Use only a few characters, and give them the characteristics they need to help develop the theme.

Make sure you have an arresting beginning, a solid middle that builds to a crisis, and a plot twist at the end.

Keep focused within a narrow time span, and make every word count.

You can find a good study on how to write short stories here: Short Stories: Ten Tips for Novice Creative Writers.

Now that you know how to write a short story, why don’t you write one and submit it to the Second Wind Publishing Mystery Contest? It could be your chance to get published!

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