You are going to see more focus on fiction here in the future. Short stories can be an important step in getting your first novel finished, but there are very few places to get short fiction published. There is going to be a separate discussion area for writer’s forums.
Ten years ago, when I started my first novel, I joined an online writing group that was mentored by Kelley Armstrong, who had just finished her 3rd novel. Everyone critiqued each others work, and discussed getting published.
Since then, Kelley has finished over 20 more novels, including a #1 New York Times Bestseller. I contacted her and got permission to reprint this, along with her short story, “Verisimilitude.”
How to Write a Fantasy/Horror Story by Kelley Armstrong.
When asked what’s the best thing about being a novelist, I usually reply: ‘ getting paid to make stuff up’. It’s true. What could be better dreaming up stories, writing them down and having someone pay you for them?
Writing fiction is like playing God. You invent your own world, create characters to people that world, then have them do whatever you want them to do. You can make your setting as exotic as Egypt or as comfortable as your hometown. Your protagonist can be a man, woman, child, single, married, divorced, teacher, truck driver, astronaut, happy, angry, bitter. You can have her running a farm or saving the world. The permutations are bounded only by your imagination. And then, when you’re done telling that story, you can start over and create another world.
There are, however, some limitations, depending on the type of fiction you’re writing.
For example: if you’re telling a crime story, you need to know how police detectives really solve crimes. You can’t just ‘make stuff up’. If you have your detective running
DNA tests on a fingerprint, you can’t tell an editor that you’re just being creative. If you do something as blatantly inaccurate as that, you’ll probably never get a chance to speak to an editor; your story will be rejected long before that point.
There is, however, one area of fiction where you can be much more creative: fantasy.
Now, when I say fantasy, I don’t mean just Lord of the Rings orcs-and-dwarves fantasy.
I’m talking about fantastical fiction, a broader classification that would also include sci-fi and horror. Any book that contains elements that don’t exist in our world can be called a
fantasy. My first book Bitten was about werewolves. Since most of us can agree that
there’s no such thing as werewolves, my premise would be ‘fantastical‘.
In fantasy fiction, you really can ‘make stuff up’. Literally. Anything you can imagine,
you can write. Readers understand that when they pick up a horror, sci—fi or fantasy novel, they are going to get the unexpected, a world where aliens, vampires and orcs
exist–maybe even all in the same story. There’s a term for this. It’s called ‘willing
suspension of disbelief. That means that you open the book prepared to believe, no
matter how far-fetched the writer’s fictional world might seem.
When writing in this genre, you don’t need to worry about ‘getting it right’. I’ve had new writers come to me and say things like: ‘I want to write a vampire story, but I started researching vampires, and there’s so much stuff out there that I’m scared of missing something and getting it wrong’. My response? You cannot get it wrong. Really. The beauty of writing about fantasy is that you are writing about things that don’t exist, therefore no one can ever say you ‘got it wrong’. Yes, there are conventions, such as ‘vampires can only come out at night’. In my second novel Stolen, I have a vampire character and she walks around in full daylight without getting so much as a sunburn. No one yet has complained that I ‘got it wrong’. I knew the convention and I chose to ignore
it. Most readers understand and accept that.
Not only is ignoring convention allowed, it’s encouraged. Using my vampire example, the market is flooded with vampire stories and if you write about the same kind of vampires everyone else writes about, you won’t get noticed, and to get published you need to get noticed. With vampires, for example, you could even defy the strongest convention by having them drain their victim’s life force instead of drinking actual blood.
Let your imagination run wild and see where it takes you. Different is creative. Different is good.
If this type of free wheeling creativity sounds likes heaven to you, then try your hand at a fantasy, sci-fi or horror short story. Don’t worry if this isn’t the type of fiction you normally read. Just give it a shot. Make stuff up. There are no rules, no right and wrong.
Every story starts with an idea, and coming up with those ideas can be the biggest hurdle.
If you’re just starting out, don’t censor yourself, or you’ll surely decide your idea isn’t
good enough. It doesn’t matter, just write something down. There’s plenty of time later
to learn the writing craft, but it all starts with an idea. If you have that, you’re ready to write.