Writing a short story: The End

The Mountain of the Lord is finished! It ended up at 74 pages, and 16,211 words that’s really long for a short story, and is in fact well into novelette range, but the anthology’s upper limit is 17,000 and I just have to hope that they like it enough to accept something that large. If they don’t, well, sad me I guess—I’ll have a story that’s too long, and with too narrow an audience, to ever publish anywhere else. That’s the problem with writing stories specifically for collections like this: if the collection doesn’t want it, you’re not likely to sell it anywhere else. Short fiction editors know that as soon as the (for example) airship anthology makes it’s final selections, they’re going to be flooded with airship stories that didn’t make the cut. Watch out for the flood of Mormons and monsters stories, Asimov’s!

The main thing I learned writing this story is that I am not very good at writing short stories. Obviously the pacing of a short story is different from the pacing of a novel, but even knowing that and planning for it I still had a devil of a time trying to make it work. The final scene is a great example: I brought my hero to the second plot turn, where he makes his decision to use his powers and fight back, and then I sat down down to write the resolution in which he actually uses his powers, and I realized it didn’t work—it was too long, and too unfocused. In a novel it would have been fine, and in fact if I’d done it as a novel I would have lengthened it a little, but for this story and this length I realized I needed to combine the two scenes into one. The hero has his epiphany right there, in the moment, while the necromancer is getting ready to sacrifice everyone, and then as soon as he makes his choice he rises up and saves the day—no waiting, no stalling, just get on with the story.

I had intended to use the old lady, Mollie Hammond, as the character who convinces Silas that his powers come from God. Once I got there, though, I realized two things: first, I wanted Silas to have a stronger social redemption, since he begins the story as an outcast, and that meant I needed him to make a more meaningful connection to someone. The old lady didn’t work for that, but I still wanted her to get her own little redemption. The second thing I realized is that the necromancer already knew who Silas was by this time, and what he was capable of, and would plan ahead. He wouldn’t just tie him up and wait for his epiphany so he could fight back. Gideon would take and threaten a hostage, to help keep Silas in check, so I needed to figure out who. The answer was obvious—Mollie Hammond was not only the only prisoner without a family member in the party (making it very easy for her to lie and say Silas was her relative), but she could use the opportunity to redeem herself by actually giving her life—she knows that whoever is chosen as a hostage will die when Silas changes and attacks, so she’s putting herself in that position to protect the people Silas loves. Since she was gone, I let one of the girls have the big soul-searching conversation with Silas.

The story turned out well, and it was really fun to write, but what’s most interesting to me was the process of writing it like this, on the Internet, discussing every secret and plot point in detail. Anyone who’s read this blog will have nothing new to discover when they read the actual story, but I’ve heard from a ton of people who loved watching it come together and seeing what choices I made and why. If the story actually sells, I’ll make sure to let you know how and when to pick up the anthology, so you can read the final product.

9 Responses to “Writing a short story: The End”

  1. > Short fiction editors know that as soon as the (for example)
    > airship anthology makes it’s final selections, they’re going to
    > be flooded with airship stories that didn’t make the cut.

    Perfect example. I wrote a story specifically for All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, and when the editors rejected it . . . well, it ended up as my first sale to Analog, so maybe that wasn’t such a good example. ;-)

  2. Hey Dan,

    If, for some reason, they don’t accept it into the anthology, will you consider posting it here on your blog? I’m thinking not as a pure copy and paste deal since it is almost 17k words long, but maybe as a downloadable PDF or other format. I would still like to read it despite knowing what happens!

    Congrats on finishing it. I’m still wrestling with my WotF submission. I used your 7-point system to plot it, and I’m just up to the 2nd Plot Turn, but some of my characters are refusing to cooperate with the outline. Guess I need to show them who’s boss!

  3. Heather Muir says:

    That is long for a short story but I’m excited to read it when the anthology takes it. Because if they know what’s good for them, they will take it.

  4. Evanne Flanders says:

    Whoa, 74 pgs? Sounds awesome! I’m not a big fan of works written in the religious vein (even though I am a Christian). I’m curious to see what this is like, especially since it includes a religion I know very little about. I really hope this sells! It sounds really interesting. Should it not, I hope you consider posting it for us to read.

  5. Marny says:

    If your story doesn’t get into the anthology, you might consider submitting it to Irreantum. Submission period for their fiction contest is January 1 through May 31. They’ve published some pretty strange stories recently, so yours might not be beyond the pale. Good luck!

  6. Wm Morris says:

    Let’s not put the competing carts before the horse, people. The submission just came in yesterday. And it’s mine — all mine!* {evil cackle}

    Evanne: although Mormons feature in these stories, very few of the submissions so far require much knowledge of Mormonism nor would I characterize them as religious, per se. These are pulp and pulp-ish stories where the Mormons just so happen to be the heroes (and sometimes the bad guys too). You may miss a cultural reference or two (although the authors have been good about explaining things and during editing we may make them a bit more friendly to the non-LDS audience) but the stories focus more on action, mystery, etc. rather than religion. This is no “Left Behind” kind of situation.

    *fine print: that shouldn’t be construed as an official acceptance. Any final word on the status of the submission will happen in the proper way through the correct channels etc. etc.

  7. Hey Dan. Thanks for sharing this experience with us. I’ve gotten a lot from it.

  8. [...] Mountain of the Lord by Dan Wells (A thrilling pioneer-era superhero origin [...]

  9. Dan Smyth says:

    Congrats on your story’s acceptance for this anthology, Dan. Still waiting for mine. :) Can’t wait to read these. Should be lots of fun.

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