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Abby
April 19th, 2004, 05:39 PM
Call for advice from those of you who have written short stories based on your longer stories:
How do you manage to keep the history, events, and/or characters from your longer works intact and satisfactorily explained within a self-contained short story?

I've run into this problem numerous times, and I still have no idea how to solve it. I'll write a short story that portrays events from the history of my novel saga...but it leaves a lot of open questions about the characters, because I can't stuff the entire detailed character history into the short story. It's too much information for short format. And I can't simplify the character history without altering events in the epic saga itself.

For example: Imagine writing a short story about Gandalf the Grey from the history of the Lord of the Rings universe (you happen to be J.R.R. Tolkien). No one who reads your story has ever heard of Lord of the Rings or wizards or hobbits or elves or dwarves. Now. How the heck would you make this a good story without going into detail about how Gandalf earned his status as a wizard, and the world he lives in, etc? The story is not ABOUT what Gandalf is capable of, or his world. It's about a tavern brawl he gets into or something. When he uses his wizard powers in the story, however, he would seem like a very incomplete, mysterious character.

I realize that there was a time when mysterious characters and ambiguous magic systems were completely acceptable...but I feel that this is no longer the case for standard publication. In any case, I prefer to have a concrete magic system and characters with a minimum of mystery. But I run into this problem whenever I write a short story based on my epic saga.

Has anyone else had this problem? If so, how do you approach it?

JRMurdock
April 19th, 2004, 06:14 PM
I've done this. It was easier than I thought. BUT, there's a catch.

I didn't include ANY of the characters from the book.

I also went way back in history for a couple of the short stories. The short stories are based on the land prior to the 'big event' that caused my story to take place.

My question is 'why' are you writing your main characters into short stories?

My purpose was, as I said, to give a sense of history. But I also didn't use my main characters. I used a different set of characters. This allowed me to explore different aspects of the world and it's history without being dependent on the saga.

Now my problem (as I write more short stories with those characters): how to keep the stories independent of each other, yet include a link between stories? This adds a little twist to your main question.

My recomendation: Write the short stories for you and if some day you reach Tolkein-esque fame, you can publish a book with the short stories about your characters and people will gobble them up as they gobble up Unfinished Tales (myself included). If by the off chance you write a truly stand alone story with your saga characters, try to get it published.

Abby
April 20th, 2004, 10:09 PM
Thanks for your advice, Maus99. A few answers:

Originally posted by maus99
I've done this. I didn't include ANY of the characters from the book. I also went way back in history for a couple of the short stories. The short stories are based on the land prior to the 'big event' that caused my story to take place.

I've done this as well. In fact, my shorter novel ("The Illusionist") is an example. It takes place 6,000 years before the events in my epic saga, with a different cast of characters on a different world. The connection between the two books is tenuous.

Originally posted by maus99
My question is 'why' are you writing your main characters into short stories?

Just 'cause I like to. You know how you get really attached to your main characters, and you want to keep writing about them even after the story is over? It's like that. My epic saga isn't over yet -- I've written three of the seven planned books -- but I want to explore some of the back history and events around my characters.

Originally posted by maus99
My recomendation: Write the short stories for you and if some day you reach Tolkein-esque fame, you can publish a book with the short stories about your characters and people will gobble them up as they gobble up Unfinished Tales (myself included). If by the off chance you write a truly stand alone story with your saga characters, try to get it published.

I can always dream about that! I used the LotR example because everyone's familiar with it.

Well, I will continue to write the stories for fun. If they're published, great -- if not, at least it was fun. I just wish there was some way to truly divide the short pieces from the longer story. These characters just weren't conceived for short introductions.

JRMurdock
April 20th, 2004, 11:21 PM
I don't know if I'd go as far as to say the Illusionist was a short story :). It's a book. Not an epic, but a nice sized novel.

I still say write for you. If something comes out that you think stands on its own, throw it to the wolves and see if they fight over it. If not, hang onto it for the day you're famous. Otherwise, keep a nice notebook with all your stories in it. I know I've got one. I'm lucky enough to have moved some from the 'unpublished' to the 'published' folder. I also keep a copy of the contracts so I'll know when it's mine to resell as a reprint -- should the mood ever strike me.

Hellsfire
April 23rd, 2004, 03:18 AM
My main thing I'm working, I found that I need to have short stories. The reason for this is that my main story is all in 1st person and the short stories explain what happened in my other character's lives. The things they've been through are just as interesting and will explain things that I don't explain in the manuscript. It's for me to have background info but it's also for my future fan base. I think in my next mss I'm going to have a scene that goes something like:

"You two are together? When-what-how?"
"Long story."

But those are minor things like how my characters lost an eye or met up with so and so. It sounds like you're trying to do some grand prequel. You may have to write another book or series. I think I'm going to have to do that and know how it feels.

In the meantime, I've tried to get my short stories published but I don't think anyone cares since my ms hasn't gotten picked up. I hope to rack up enough short stories and put them in a book sometime after my series comes out.

Of course, if none of this works, self publishing here I come.

Abby
April 23rd, 2004, 03:41 PM
(blush) I've already got the huge prequel series planned out. AND the huge sequel series.
But I forbade myself to start writing them until I'm done with this epic seven-book-series .

The short stories are not meant to be entire novels, either prequels or sequels. They're meant to be vignettes: important moments or character interaction from my series, but without referring to the larger story.

Like you, Hellsfire, I will self-publish if nothing else comes of this. :) I'm also trying to build up my list of short story publications.