Life, in a Grain of Sand
I imagine a lot of writers, who plan to write a collection of short stories have some sort of theme in mind. Of course, if there’s one immutable truth with writing it is that there are no immutable truths so there will be anthology pantsers, too. But if, like me, you have a group of stories and decide you’d like to use them in an anthology, I think it is necessary to give a bit of thought to structure.
Of course, there is nothing stopping you taking your oeuvre and jamming it into a book, willy-nilly. For most of us, I suggest a little thought is given to what is included and where, if you are going to engage a reader.
Here’s one definition of ‘anthology’:
a published collection of writings (such as poems or short stories) by different authors
Sometimes the definitions suggest the stories be on the same theme, or from the same time period too.
What this tells me is you a have wide degree of freedom in deciding what to include and how to engage your audience.
I wrote 30 short stories in November, one a day, each approximately 1667 words. This was a sort Nano Short, aiming to write the requisite 50,000 words in the month. I took prompts from many sources. I deliberately set out to write in a range of genre, with the stories ranging from the darkly gruesome to fluffily humorous. I involved certain characters in more than one story and told the stories from a variety of points of view.
When I decided to bring them together in an anthology my first question was to decide if they flowed or jarred, given their mixed nature. Were there any common threads? If not, did it matter?
I decided that the link was in the characters. These are nearly all dependent on the characters. For me they had to have strong voices because, by limiting each story to 1667 words, the plot alone would not drive the reader’s attention.
I also decided that there was a virtue in variety. But, and this was pointed out to me by my editor, Esther Newton (you can find her HERE), where the stories do not follow any sort of preordained theme, it is important to make sure the placement of each story within the whole is right.
Placement is like pacing in a novel and is a critical element to its success. If you mix humour with a darker take, then think about where the funnies come. I decided not to start with a funny or the audience might be disappointed, expecting humour throughout. And don’t jam on the reading breaks by placing a fast moving story next to a thoughtful character study.
I needed to start with an uplifting story, I felt. I wanted my reader to be pulled in, to feel hope. But I also wanted there to be a jolt, something that made my reader stop and think, in the first four stories.
How I ended was just as important. The story needed to be about an end: this was my ghost story and, I think, neatly concludes the work.
In writing and posting my 30 stories on my blog in November, I showed the picture or explained the prompt from which I worked. In the anthology I wanted the stories to explain themselves, to be standalone pieces of writing. This involved some, relatively minor rewrites but in so doing I moved away from my word count. That was an important lesson, too. At least two of the stories felt overblown as I shoehorned them into the 1667 words. Helped again by Esther I changed them to have the bite they needed, albeit significantly under the previous limit, while growing three others.
I’m still not sure this works. I’ve written in first, second and third person, all in dialogue and with past and present tenses. I have themes and genre covering romance, LBGT, horror, sci-fi, historical, a modern take on mythology, MG, fantasy, humour, espionage, thriller, back to front and more. The aim is to enable the reader to start and finish a story over breakfast, smile, nod or frown and move on. There will be something for everyone but there is always a risk in trying to please all of the people. I hope you enjoy it and if you put together your own anthology I’d love to know how you decide what to include and where you’ve included it.
Geoff Le Pard.
If you want to find my anthology, go to: