Last week I started work on a short story, a prequel to my Touched by a Demon series. It features Dara’s grandparents and explains how Esther and Lonnie met and how they came to start the demon-fighting ministry that plays such a major role in Dara’s life.
I’ve had it in mind to write this story for a while, so that I’d have a free taste of my Touched by a Demon world to offer potential readers. I’ve written short stories before, even won awards with them, but they were women’s fiction rather than romance. (If you’re interested, you can find a couple of them at www.jeanneestridge.com under the Extras tab.)
As discussed previously in this post, romances are inherently more complex than other forms of genre fiction. Because you have a main plot arc, a romance arc, and character arcs for both the hero and the heroine, even the bare minimum is a lot to juggle. Because I write paranormal, there’s an additional layer of complexity with the necessary world-building.
I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how I’d do all that in 10,000 words or less, so I signed up for a short story writing class through OIRWA, the online international chapter of RWA. In the first lesson the instructor handed me the solution, which is so obvious I’m embarrassed to share it: No subplots.
If you’ve read either of my books, you know my subplots tend to abound. Every time I introduce a character who is more than a walk-on, I want to give them their own little story. If my short story is to stay a short story, that can’t happen this time.
My first task was setting up parameters for my story.
In The Demon Always Wins, Esther is 94, which means she would have been born around 1920. That makes her 21 as World War II begins, so it made sense to set the story during World War II.
Because The Demon Always Wins takes place near Jacksonville, FL, I decided to make Esther a welder at a shipyard in Jacksonville, helping outfit ships bound for war in the South Pacific.
Since I know absolutely nothing about what a welder at a shipyard would see/hear/ feel/smell during the average workday today, never mind 75 years ago, research was indicated. Google located a book titled Shipyard Diary of a Woman Welder, by Augusta Homes Clawson.
Augusta worked for the U.S. Office of Education in the area in charge of training women welders. By 1942 lots of women were completing the 8-day training course and going on to work in aircraft factories, munition works, and shipyards. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the shipyard workers quit almost immediately.
Augusta was sent to Oregon to find out why. Working undercover, she attended welding school and then went to work in a shipyard. If you’re a WWII history buff, I heartily recommend this book. She tells the story of her adventures with so much empathy for her fellow workers and she paints such a vivid picture, not just of the shipyard but of the U.S. during WWII, that the book is fascinating.
I, of course, immediately started weaving a story of a woman confronted with the situations that made the dropout rate in shipyards so high but I had to rein myself in. This is a 10,000 word short story about Esther and Lonnie fighting demons, not a 100,000 word novel about a woman welder during World War II.
I decided to make Lonnie a sailor who’d been in the Battle of Midway and sent home as an injured war hero. He comes to work at Esther’s shipyard suffering from a bum leg and what would now be referred to as PTSD but was called battle fatigue back then.
Can you see how easy it would be to create a whole drama just around that?
But no. The plan is: limit this story to:
a) The main plot–demons are trying to help Hitler win the war by sabotaging newly-built ships.
b) A woman who can recognize demons spots them but no one believes her so she has to figure out how to stop them on her own.
c) A guy who doesn’t believe in demons winds up believing her, helping her and realizing he can spot demons, too. In the process, he channels his PTSD toward a new kind of war.
d) They realize they were made for each other.
Any other advice for a would-be short story writer?