How I Write a Short Story

It usually starts with a phrase or a complete sentence.

This will come to me out of nowhere, or sometimes inspired by one of the many “what if” questions I ponder throughout the day. Everything I see is potential fodder for a story. How did that crack in the wall get there? Why was that woman frowning? What made that vine grow so fast? Who was that I heard crying in that house? Who on earth would make such a creepy doll and why are its eyes white?

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My parents love to wander around dusty antique malls in search of treasure. At one such antique barn in rural Maine, I found a box of creepy dolls in various states of decay.

I will mull this phrase or sentence over until I know where to go next. Then, I sit down and start writing. Usually, as I’m writing the opening scene, I’ll get images inspired by the tone of the scene I’m writing. I tend to think visually, even when working on a story that will have no visuals attached. I guess I’m just programmed by our TV and movie culture.

The images will pop into my head – sometimes a static image and sometimes a brief chunk of action (think GIFs). I can’t exactly explain how this happens but there are tons of books and articles on the science or practice of creativity. Very cool stuff. If the image is haunting enough, if it sticks with me, I’ll usually spin it into a later scene. Sometimes, the image connects easily with what I’ve been writing, but most of the time it doesn’t. But that’s OK. That’s when I have the most fun – like trying to solve a puzzle or, as a better metaphor for my writing, a crime.

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Must have coffee. This photo was taken somewhere in the South of Chile during my travels in 2017. If I’m writing first thing in the morning, toast is also a necessity.

Working on a short story, I don’t begin with a plot outlined. I begin with the highly intuitive process of “pantsing.” However, usually after the first scene is penned, I allow myself time to brainstorm the plot for the rest of the story. So when I get around to writing the rest of the story later that day or the following, I know exactly where I’m headed.

When I finish the first draft, I will set the story aside for a few days to let it pickle. When I read it again, I read it with an aim to enjoy it like a reader. I am one of those writers that edit as I write. As such, it will take me 2-3 days to complete a short story. But, this means little editing at the end. After I finish writing, I need to edit mostly for big-picture stuff like plot and character, and less so for grammar, flow, or vocabulary.

my desk
This is what my desk looks like while editing a story. This photo was taken in our house in Santiago, Chile. For those in the know, you’ll probably notice that I’m using Scrivener software.

Typically, I write the first draft in Scrivener, compiling to a word doc for editing and submissions. And, as soon as I finish a story to my satisfaction, it’s out on submissions.

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