16 October 2007

Short Enough For Ya?

In science fiction and fantasy, literary fiction and a couple other genres, there's a well established proving ground of short fiction markets (magazines, anthologies, etc.) where authors can hone their craft, sometimes en route to novels, sometimes in addition to novels, and sometimes instead of novels. In romance, that hasn't been the case until recently. Sure, there were Holiday Regency Surprise anthologies or random themed novella collections, but there were few to zero short story and novella markets for pure romance fiction, if you don't count the confessions markets.

The growth of small and electronic presses has changed that. Micropresses and even some of the larger presses now have the flexibility to purchase independent short fiction, particularly short erotic romances, from both little and well known authors. These get published as stand alone ebooks and in collections. At many of the publishers, these stories can earn what are considered "pro rates" by such organizations as SFWA and HWA.

I'm participating in the upcoming Beyond the Veil round robin, which will consist of short (and possibly erotic!) romance stories that take place in or around a ParaExpo convention set in the fictional Dunvegas casino. As I decide what tale to spin, it has got me thinking about short fiction more than I usually do. One of the primary criticisms I see of short fiction pieces by romance authors is that they feel abbreviated. If you read a bunch of short romance fiction reviews, reviewers who otherwise enjoyed the piece have been known to add the caveat, "It felt too short" or "I wish we'd had more time in this story/world." While that seems like a "duh" comment -- I mean, it's SHORT fiction, ya big lunk! -- sometimes I agree. Short fiction can sometimes feel more like a story seed -- like a squooshed up novel that hasn't had a chance to bloom. I've noticed this about shorts in all genres, but in romance, I see this a bit more frequently.

Two reasons. One, I believe short fiction is an art form that has to be learned, just like novels or poetry, and as romance writers, we've only recently had lucrative markets for our shorter tales. We haven't had a lot of short romance fiction to read or a lot of reason to write it beyond personal satisfaction.

Two, telling a whole romance from the beginning doesn't lend itself to a short format, if you tell the story of an interesting romance, that is. And glutton-for-punishment authors like the ones here have a tendency to throw in paranormal elements and mysteries and action-adventure to increase the word count and narrative demands even further!

A solution to this short fiction problem might be restricting the narration to a significant moment in the romance journey or describing a journey that's brief (but fascinating, of course). The story could cover only the meet-cute of the protagonists and leave readers with the feeling things are going to go well for those crazy kids. The story could describe the first sex, the "let's go steady" proposal, or the incident that made the protagonists realize they loved one other. Or how about the time when a certain person forgot my birthday even though we were newly married and I had to explain to him that yes, he still had to buy me gifts even though he'd snagged me as a wife after chasing me for ten years? (Not that that ever happened to me.)

As I decide what's going to happen in Dunvegas that's both romancey and hot, I hope one of these approaches will help me avoid the abbreviation effect. What can my significant moment be? How can the moment, the event, still have a narrative arc if it isn't the whole journey? What kind of romantic story can I tell that's brief, complete and satisfying to the reader?

And how can I work Elvis in there without a shoehorn? Because it's Vegas, baby.

To find out how I and the other participating authors rise to these burning short fiction challenges, check back often as we post our creations, starting October 19, I believe. At the end of the month, we're give away a free ebook full of Dunvegas goodness with the complete stories and maybe other treats. You don't even have to dress up in costume and knock on our door to get it.

Jody W.
A SPELL FOR SUSANNAH--Winter 2008, Samhain Publishing
http://www.jodywallace.com/ * http://meankittybox.blogspot.com/
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