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Guest post: Mystery Short Stories by mystery author Warren Bull

11 Oct

Tonight’s guest blog post is brought to you by mystery novelist, short story author and blogger Warren Bull and for something a little different it’s…

Warren Bull and Nancy Pickard discuss the Mystery Short Story from Sisters in Crime. Border Crimes Chapter Meeting, February 5, 2011

“When the two riders appeared out of nowhere, I knew they came to kill my pa.” So begins our own Warren Bull’s short story, “Beecher’s Bibles.” 
That first line gives a sense of time. “Those two riders aren’t on Harleys,” Warren said. The word “pa” also implies it’s historical. Finally, it sets the scene for the story and draws the reader in. What happens next?

Warren invited friend and fellow short story writer Nancy Pickard to help him present the February program on writing mystery short stories. The first line of the story is crucial, and Warren said it can take as long to come up with the right first line as it takes to write the rest of the story. 
Warren got his start writing short stories because of the Manhattan Mystery Conclave’s contest. (For which he wrote the winning story!) Since then, he’s had a number of stories published and now has his own collection of short stories available: Murder Manhattan Style. 
Short stories present different challenges from writing novels. You don’t have a lot of words.

Here are some of the elements discussed by Warren and Nancy:

  • Characterization must be achieved quickly. Warren said that can be accomplished with a few well-chosen words of description, such as this line: “When I met her, I figured she was the sort of girl who ironed her own socks.” Dialogue helps define character and Warren finds writing in first person does, too.
  • Pacing must be tight. Action must start immediately in a short story. It’s a struggle for horror writers who like to set up the mood and atmosphere, said Nancy.
  • A “crucible moment” should be part of every short story, according to Harlan Ellison, Nancy said. That’s a severe test that may be the most important moment in that character’s life.
  • Epiphany is another important element in a short story. Every story needs that “ah-ha” moment, said Nancy. Learning that at a writer’s conference at William Jewell College in the early 1980s completely changed her approach to writing short stories, she said, and she was much more successful after that.
  • The iceberg describes the form of a short story, according to Ernest Hemingway. Warren said what you see and read in the story is only a small part of what’s going on.
  • Endings of mystery short stories do tend to be resolved and tied up neatly – frequently with a twist – and often with plenty of surprises along the way, as opposed to the sometimes ambiguous endings of literary short stores.

You can see these elements in Nancy’s and Warren’s favorite short stories. Nancy likes “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” by Hemingway (read it at http://www.mrbauld.com/hemclean.html) and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger (read it at http://www.nyx.net/~kbanker/chautauqua/jd.htm).

One of Warren’s favorites is short enough to be reprinted here in its entirety:

The Soap Bubble

It is.

It was.

“It’s a completely satisfying story with a popping good ending,” Warren said.

Other advice: 
Follow the directions exactly for submissions to contests, anthologies and magazines. Don’t believe that if the editor likes the story enough, he or she will take the time to correct grammar, punctuation and format.  (As a former magazine editor, I cannot emphasize this one enough. Editors are stressed-out people with too much to do; make their jobs easier and they’ll love you.)

Markets: 
Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines.
 Anthologies. 
E-zines.  Check out http://sandraseamans.blogspot.com for a list. 
Contests such as the one for Mystery Writers of America. 
More info:
 Warren’s blog at http://Writerswhokill.blogspot.com.

I love your soap bubble. It reminded me of one of my favourite Shel Silverstein poems, Snowball. Thank you, Warren.

Warren Bull is a multiple award-winning author who has been nominated for a 2012 Derringer award.

He has more than forty short stories published, the novels, ABRAHAM LINCOLN FOR THE DEFENSE, HEARTLAND and MURDER IN THE MOONLIGHT available at http://www.warrenbull.com/kindle_editions.html and a short story collection, MURDER MANHATTAN STYLE available at http://www.warrenbull.com.

***

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please”.

The blog interviews return as normal tomorrow morning with fantasy / SF author Terry Ervin – the five hundred and eighteenth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me.

You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything… and follow me on Twitter where each new posting is automatically announced. You can also read / download my eBooks and free eShorts at SmashwordsSony Reader StoreBarnes & NobleiTunes BookstoreKobo and Amazon, with more to follow. I have a new forum, friend me on Facebook, like me on Facebook, connect with me on LinkedIn, find me on Tumblr, complete my website’s Contact me page or plain and simple, email me. I also now have a new blog creation service especially for, but not limited to, writers.

Unfortunately, as I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t review books but I have a feature called ‘Short Story Saturdays’ where I review stories of up to 2,500 words. Alternatively if you have a short story or self-contained novel extract / short chapter (ideally up to 1000 words) that you’d like critiqued and don’t mind me reading it / talking about and critiquing it (I send you the transcription afterwards so you can use the comments or ignore them) :) on my ‘Bailey’s Writing Tips’ podcast, then do email me. They are fortnightly episodes, usually released on Sundays, interweaving the recordings between the red pen sessions with the hints & tips episodes. I am now also looking for flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays and poetry for Post-weekend Poetry.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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14 responses to “Guest post: Mystery Short Stories by mystery author Warren Bull

  1. Linda Rodriguez

    October 12, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Love the Soap Bubble story, Warren. Lots of good information here. Thanks!

     
  2. jennymilch

    October 12, 2012 at 1:13 am

    Wonderful tips, especially the crucible and the a-ha moment. Thanks for this summation–as pithy as a great short story.

     
    • Warren Bull

      October 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks, Jenny. Nancy is a great teacher.

       
  3. dianekratz

    October 12, 2012 at 5:51 am

    Loved this interview Warren! You gave useful information! Can’t wait to read your new book!

     
    • Warren Bull

      October 12, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      If you read my book and leave reviews online, I would be grateful.

       
  4. patgarcia

    October 12, 2012 at 9:52 am

    Hi,
    Thank you for Morgen for inviting Warren, and Warren, I thank you for these very important tips. As a writer who has had her first short story published by a publisher, your tips are extremely helpful.
    Ciao,
    Patricia

     
  5. Jacqueline Seewald

    October 12, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Lots of useful info here. I enjoyed reading your blog!

     
    • Warren Bull

      October 12, 2012 at 4:19 pm

      thanks for stopping by, Jacqueline.

       
  6. Anita Page

    October 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Nancy and Warren, thank you for this helpful discussion. Warren, I love the ironed socks. Nancy, your comment about Salinger reminded me that it’s time to re-read the Nine Stories.

     
    • Warren Bull

      October 12, 2012 at 6:20 pm

      I have to admit I stole that from Earl Staggs. I don;t know who he stole it from.

       
  7. morgenbailey

    October 12, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Thank you very much for all your wonderful comments, ladies. It’s great to see so many new and familiar names. :)

     
  8. Gloria Alden

    October 12, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Good blog, Warren. I copied down all your short story must haves. I know them, but it helps to be reminded before starting another story – and things to check off when it’s finished.

     

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