Monday, June 04, 2007



I write primarily in this form, anywhere from 100 words to 5,000 words (although I have written a 55-word mystery for Mr. Andreychuk's Bullet Points and a 23,000 word epic for Mr. Moriyama at Aphelion.) I am most comfortable in the 500-word flash category and the 2,000 standard short story realm.

Because I write mostly mystery and science fiction, I am constrained not only by the short story form, but also the conventions of my genres. Within these self-imposed structures, I prefer to create entertaining puzzles and character-driven stories. I don't usually write romantic fiction (although I have done so) or literary fiction (that too) but I think writing is writing and if you can master the craft, then you have a shot at creating the art.

So what is this Art and Craft business, anyway? Well, the Craft of Writing is something that can be taught and learned and everyone who calls themselves a writer or aspires to be a writer needs to learn the basics. These include grammar, sentence structure, spelling, and punctuation. Add to this skills in vocabulary and common usage. Mix in sentence and paragraph flow and pacing.

The Art comes in the story. You might have all the tools with which to re-write someone else's work, but nothing with which to craft an original piece of your own fiction. The Art is in the ideas.

You need both pieces to write fiction – you need the ideas and you need the means of executing these ideas into readable, sensible stories.

Short stories are not vignettes or snapshots or pieces of a larger work. They are self-contained works with a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning should hook the reader with that first sentence, and introduce both characters and conflict. The middle should develop both characters and story, while the ending should provide a satisfying conclusion to the preceding events. (This is not to say all loose ends are tied up, or that the reader agrees with the denouement, only that the writer has provided closure or the means to a conclusion for the reader.)

A short story is more than a heartfelt romp through the writer's disorderly psyche. It is an orderly display of the writer's ideas conveyed through a specific form. These ideas may be horrifying, grisly or perverted – or they may be tender, sweet or poignant. The ideas can be disorderly; the execution cannot.

This coming Sunday – June 10th – the Los Angeles Chapter of Sisters in Crime is hosting their annual NO CRIME UNPUBLISHED Conference in Alhambra, CA. Details are here. If you are in the Southern CA area and want a day of murder, mayhem and solid publishing advice, check it out. I'll be co-hosting a Short Story workshop in the Craft of Writing Track with Gary Phillips. It doesn't get any better than that!


One of the puppies in the spa, wanting to jump in, but not knowing how deep it might be, gingerly standing on the top step, one foot raised out of the water.

A yellow Western Oriole at the bird feeder – first one I have ever seen.

A barbecued Tri-Tip Roast. My Dear Husband barbecued it according to his brother-in-law's recipe and it came out perfectly. I love these summer barbecue days!


Bernita said...

A very good summary of Art and Craft!

Jessi said...

My mouth is watering for that barbecue...

Michael said...

Nice summary, and an interesting blog. I want to write novels, but I've done a few shorts and like both forms. Good stuff!

Kate Thornton said...

Bernita - Thank you!
Jessi - You have a standing invitation!
Michael - Thanks for stopping by. I write primarily shorts, but am beginning the preliminary research for a novel. Thanks for your nice comments!