As we near the submission period for our third year there couldn’t be a more perfect time to release our most recent interview on short story writing with the incredible Mark Lawrence. Mark talks about ‘Road Brothers’ his recent collection of short stories set in the world of The Broken Empire, reveals some of his favourite shorts, and speaks about his own writing process.
How important do you think short stories are for authors in terms of their writing experience and progression?
I’ve always maintained that short stories are the best way to learn to write. The level of investment is small compared to a novel so you can experiment and, importantly, you can fail. Also on writing groups you will find more people willing to read and give feedback on a short story than you will for a novel.
Everyone is different though and I know some authors who have written successful books without writing short stories first. I wrote a lot of them however.
Do you remember your first short story that you published?
I do. I still have the cheque for $34 in a frame in my office. It was in 2006 for a story in a now defunct magazine called Fictitious Fiction. I think the story was called Song of the Mineborn. A fantasy story that involved escaping from slavery. The magazine was tall and thin and nicely produced.
What has been your most favourite short story that you’ve read and why?
To my shame I read very few short stories and remember them poorly. I read fewer books than I want to too. I guess I will have to cheat and name one from a Steven King short story collection, though I suspect they are really novellas. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.
What prompted you to write your book of short stories set in the world of the Broken Empire, ‘Road Brothers’ and which tales are your particular favourites?
I get asked to write a lot of stories for anthologies and they normally want something set “book world” so I had a collection of stories about Jorg and his companions. Readers were interested in them so rather than have them lie scattered in magazines and anthologies I decided to collect them in one place. Then I added a few more to round the collection off.
I think my favourites are Bad Seed, A Good Name, and Know Thyself.
If you had to choose to develop one of the Road Brothers characters further, possibly into a novel, which one would it be and why?
Good question. It would be a question of who was most interesting in terms of personal growth. I’m less interested in writing about static characters. I think The Nuban would be the one as he clearly has a tale to tell of his journey from his homeland and an outsider’s point of view on the world he has found himself in. Second choices would be Sir Makin and Red Kent.
In your opinion what makes a good short story?
I really couldn’t say. The best short stories often try something novel and leave the reader looking at the world in a new way. Though the Stephen King story I mentioned earlier is a traditional tale strongly told. So yeah, there’s no formula.
How important is the planning when writing a short story?
Well, I don’t tend to plan my books or short stories at all. But, I should think that planning is much more important in a short story than in a book. You don’t have the room to ramble. Every line must earn its keep and focus is important. So planning, which helps you keep to the word limit and reach the end in good order, would seem to be a useful thing to do. Only … I don’t.
With limited words available to pad out a tale and time being of the essence, what are your three top tips for those out there wanting to venture into short story writing?
I’m not really a tips guy. I don’t plan and I don’t really edit either, which makes me fairly unusual as a writer and renders my advice more irritating than useful. My natural instinct is toward brevity in any case so it’s making a story long enough for a book that is my challenge, not making it short enough for a short story.
I guess the thing to do is have some idea of where you are going, to see whether the end can’t in some way echo or refer to the start so the thing is nicely bounded, and if you find yourself going off on a tangent to ask yourself how it serves the story.
As well as leaving a bad taste in your mouth submission rejections can knock your confidence. What advice would you give to new authors for dealing with this?
Know that the editor is generally not just looking for a good story, they are looking for a good story that fits in with the stories they have recently published, that fits the aesthetic of the magazine, and (often) that pushes the social messages that the particular publication approves of. So your choices are to heavily research the market you are aiming at and to write accordingly, or to accept that a great many of your submissions will not stand a chance regardless of how well written they may be. And either way you will get a ton of rejections because the slush piles are always overflowing.
Please tell us your own top three shorts you’ve written so that we can go find them and enjoy a good read?
We’d like to thank Mark for taking the time to speak with us and share his experiences of short story writing. If you’d like to connect with him and keep up to date with his work then you can follow him on Twitter @Mark_Lawrence or website.