I’m working on a trilogy of science fiction stories and they began with a short story.
A couple years ago, in preparation for attending a conference, I wrote a sff short story. It was accepted for publication in a Fiction River anthology and became my first ever fiction publication for adults. But I knew even as I wrote it that it was backstory for the YA trilogy that I had planned.
That story has had repercussions throughout my novels and here’s how a short story could benefit YOUR novel.
Backstory. The backstory is everything that happens before the opening scene of your novel. It involved family, parents, culture, historical events and so on. Why are you starting your novel at this particular place and time? Because it’s the beginning of the “day of change.” Your novel needs an exciting start. It doesn’t need a long historical tome that explains why this or that is important. See more about great openings. However, it is crucial that YOU, the author, know all that stuff.
Instead of dryly writing up a world history, why not write a short story about it? My short story introduces the first time that humans meet the aliens from the planet Rison. Of course, the main characters in that story are important in the novel: they are the parents of the novel’s main character. It’s their love story and the reason for the main character’s existence as a half-human/half-alien boy. And of course, that identity reverberates throughout the novel.
Excitement. Writing the short story, the worlds poured out. Hey, it didn’t matter if I “got it right” because I was writing this just for me. Yes, there was a conference, but really, I thought I’d be the only one to read it. That gave me great freedom to write and explore the possibilities of the world I’d imagined. What fun! I went places that surprised me in the short story. I think that freedom, the fun, and the very loose attitude toward the writing was helpful in developing the foundation for my novel.
Voice. Besides writing something fun, the story story was an opportunity to test out a certain voice. I reached for a scientific feel that would firmly pull my story into the science fiction camp instead of fantasy. Short stories are an easy way to test voice without a big commitment.
Publication. The fact that the short story was published was a bonus! If you write for adults, there are many such markets. At times, YA writers can also cross over to these markets. If you write for middle grade, good luck; there are few markets for short stories for that audience.
Marketing. Finally, I see these short stories as fiction that I can give away to garner interest in the novels. With giveaways such a prevalent strategy these days, it makes sense to plan what to give away. This will be better than giving away a full book, but it should do as good a job in getting readers interested in the story and my writing.
I find myself needing to write another short story to accompany Book 2, and for much the same reason. The backstory needs more depth and concrete details. I’ve been trying this week to hammer out this and that, without much success. And then, I remembered the story story as a tool in my writer’s tool box. I’ll be writing at least one and maybe two or three short stories this coming week.