People Never Cut Back on "it" - Jo-Ann Carson

People Never Cut Back on “it”

What I Learned at the Emerald City Writer’s Conference (Part 1)

anthealawsonAnthea Lawson calls this short story a Regency Tidbit.

About “It”

I learned many things at the ECWC, but what sticks out in my mind is the last sentence in an article in the Seattle Times newspaper, quoting the owner of a successful sex toy company. It went something like this, “My business is recession-proof. When times get bad – people don’t cut back on orgasms.”

I laughed. But there’s truth in her words. Truth we all understand. And I think we can extrapolate her experience to that of the genre writer. People need stories as much, if not more…when their lives become difficult.

The Craft of the Short Story with Anthea Lawson

We’ve all heard the chatter. We are entering what Lawson calls a “Golden Age” for the short story. Here are my notes from her workshop:

  • large market (traditional such as Mammoth Books and also e-books)
  • likened it to a high quality chocolate bar, a treat, like pumpkin spice late
  • can also be a loss leader that brings the reader to your other work

FR-Christmas-Ghosts-ebook-cover-194x300Defining the Structure

  • length – as long as it needs to be
  • Hugo Nebula guidelines define a short story as a story under 750 words, but many definitions
  • Flash fiction 300-1,000 words (market in magazines and anthologies)
  • Micro Fiction 10 to 300 words
  • Novella 15,000 words (or more)
  • Mammoth Book anthologies 17.5 to 12 thousand words
  • RWA has a call-out for short stories 5 to 7 thousand words in length

How to Write It

  • many myths about the short story like 1) it’s harder to write or 2) it’s easier because it’s shorter
  • it’s just fiction that’s short
  • you can do things in a short that you can’t do in a Long (for example The Gift of the Magi wouldn’t work as a long story, but is powerful in a short)The-Gift-of-the-Magi
  • often a pivotal point in a character’s life, a vignette (example Lincoln’s shooting)
  • can be a spin-off of a secondary character from another one of your stories
  • it can feature an unlikable villain the reader wouldn’t want to spend a whole novel with, but can be interested in for a short
  • ghost stories great for shorts – you get the emotional payoff
  • a pattern to the story – referred to¬†7 point plot structure model
  • setting is crucial – must be strong, vivid and immersive
  • need to enter story at the point of change
  • use try/fail cycles (but they don’t have to be epic experiences each time)
  • need two struggling characters
  • enter late leave early in scenes
  • use jump cuts (condense the action) like on TV (eg. they slammed the door…when they arrived)
  • validation – the sense of an ending – the essential closure at end


  • a main complaint about short stories is that readers don’t feel that sense of ending – work it

The short story is a vehicle for your creative voice.

If any of this doesn’t make sense, the error is mine. Anthea Lawson is a great speaker. She inspired me.

8 Replies to “People Never Cut Back on “it””

  1. As always, Jo-Ann, you’ve done another great job of pulling together main points in a presentation. Is it easy for you to write the synopsis for your books?
    I think one of the best things about a short story is they can tide over a reader until the next bigger thing comes out. It appears to me that once you have an audience, they can be voracious. LOL A good and bad thing. No matter how fast you write, it’s never quite fast enough for those longed for FANS, which we all hope for.

    1. Hi Marsha
      I agree. Reading is a quick activity. Writing stories isn’t. I’m revising my novella at the moment. I had great fun writing it. I find trying different forms refreshing. Like Alison Brennan says writing shorts between books cleans her palette.
      Thanks for the compliment about my post. I hate writing synopses. It’s so much easier to condense someone else’s ideas, than my own.
      Hope your writing is going well.
      Best Wishes

  2. One of my favourite guys on twitter writes a micro story in every tweet, an evocative sentence that opens the doors in my mind. I find short stories so intimidating, I almost feel like setting a goal to write one every day in November. A Mini-NaNoWriMo. They don’t have to be good, they don’t have to be long. Maybe it would help me get over this mental block.

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