Short Story Writing Process: Prewriting - Travis Senzaki

Short Story Writing Process: Prewriting

writing a short story prewriting notes before getting to the main story

I’ve already put down two short stories worth of notes, but haven’t gotten to the story itself, yet.

So, if you read my post about goals for this year, you’ll remember that I said I was going to write one short story per month, in the interest of developing my craft.

Well it’s the end of month one and that first short story is . . . not here.

I set that bold goal without knowing a thing about what goes into a short story. I just figured that I could certainly put out that number of words each month, so it wouldn’t be a problem. Posts like this one led me to believe that I could crank out a short story in 20 hours or less.

Maybe once I have a few under my belt. But that is not a realistic time frame for my first ever attempt.

So far, I’ve learned that, while the story may be “short,” that doesn’t mean that I can get away with skimping on the planning and character development.

Prewriting for Short Stories: What I’ve Learned (So Far)

OK, here’s part of my problem: I love prewriting. Much more than writing, really.

I am perfectly happy to spend hours on end dreaming up worlds and conflicts, even putting together a robust outline of a story that I would like to read in that world.

But the actual writing process? Not as appealing. And editing? That’s just straight-up intimidating.

So, I am predisposed to spend too much time planning without doing anything meaningful. That’s not helpful.

In terms of world-building and outlining, I’ve actually managed to cut a lot of that time out, this time around, but I’m still in the pre-writing phase because I’m putting that time into my character.

Character Development: Short Story vs. Novel

Honestly, I don’t know what’s really necessary for short story character development, yet. Maybe after I’ve written one or two, I’ll have a better feel for what I need to know.

In the meantime, since my goal is to write short stories to improve my craft for my novels, I am going through the process to create a protagonist who would be worthy of a novel.

I have been following the blueprinting model from Lisa Cron’s Story Genius.* The method involves planning and writing multiple scenes from your character’s back story to show what brought him or her to the present situation.

I’m still writing those scenes and, combined, they have already exceeded the length of a short story.

Whatever doesn’t kill me makes my character stronger, right?

World Building for the Short Story

I think you can crank out stories quicker if you set them in the modern, real world. So-called Literary stuff. But that’s not my game.

(Aside: I don’t believe in a distinction between “literary” and genre fiction. Literary fiction is just a genre in which the author tries to create the most painfully boring world and plot possible.)

My goal is to write fantasy novels. My favorite books to read are enormous bricks that let me spend countless hours exploring the world and getting to know the characters, and I plan to write for readers who share that taste.

While a short story does not come close to that goal, it only makes sense to set it in a fantasy world. And that means world-building.

I have been able to keep myself in check (somewhat) this time around. Thanks again to Story Genius, I have been able to focus on only building out the details that my story needs. Plus, I’m learning to do it in a way that doesn’t interrupt my writing.

But even with the streamlined process, it still needs to be robust. I’m not going to spray a bunch of random details. I, at least, need to know how the world comes together, in rough strokes. (Bonus: I’m finding fuel for further story ideas as I go).

Enjoying the Short Story Process

I imagine that if I was under pressure to get this story out for publication, I’d be frustrated with the production pace. (Worse, if I was trying to turn a short-term profit off my writing career, I’d by in agony now, I’m sure). But since I don’t have that pressure, I can take it a little slow and use this short story experience to accomplish my original goal:

Learning how to craft better stories.

Of course, the measure of my success will be up to you, reader.

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