From Cover to Cover, Quickly: Writing a Short Story

From Cover to Cover, Quickly: Writing a Short Story

I’m documenting my writing process for short stories here on the blog. This isn’t an original idea. Many blogs document the writing process through word count, snowflake methods, rote editing tips, etc, and their authors know that few works spring fully-formed from the heads of creators. The well-edited conclusion can look so natural that the end result seems obvious. But not each edit makes the writing better and closer to the ideal, nor is it a linear process. Having not found a process that I like or have found useful, I will record my own process with the hope that I can better shape my stories.  


Idea to First Draft

I’m on the second draft of a short story right now, and I’m positive as a proton that the first draft was much more fun to read. Mostly because it had lots of sex in it. Why? Because I wrote the first draft when I considered becoming an erotica author.

I tried to write erotica because I need the money. Stuff is going on at home that has mugged my bank account and left it bleeding on the ground. It’s funny to think I’d make anything substantial as a new author with only one, $0.99 short story out. (BTW, here it is. Free on kindle unlimited), or that I would build up steam as a writer through erotica, but I thought I would give it a shot.

I got the story idea off a game in a Reddit thread. The commenters would start with the title of their current story, and the following comments would guess what they thought the short story was about. One of the guesses was this:

“Two elite chess players fall in love, never having met. Their romance is based only on them reading accounts of the games the other has played and imagining what that person must be like to have moved in such genius ways.”

I loved the idea and wrote a story. Erotically. Nevermind that I don’t read erotica and have never written anything erotic before. I decided to continue not writing steamy scenes when I read an AMA from one of the top erotica writers on Amazon. She said something like this: “I’ve always wanted to be a writer and got into erotic writing because I needed the money. Eventually I’d like to switch to writing fiction.”

This was eerily similar to my own thought process, and ultimately what made me decide to not write erotica. I’d rather work toward building an audience and honing the craft as a fantasy/sci-fi/literary fiction writer, rather than work on erotica and come round to those genres later. If I wrote erotica, I would be getting better as an erotica writer, not a fantasy/sci-fi/literary fiction writer, and I don’t believe my audience would switch with me if I changed genres. Considering my interests and goals, it didn’t make sense for me to write erotica. So I thought, fuck it. Nobody will fuck! I’ll edit it and make it non-erotic! Plus, it’s about chess, which is about as sexual as fax machine.

I am not a chess player. I used to play chess with my brother, but our winning strategies were to capture as many pieces as possible until the other player was stuck. For why certain moves were brilliant, the draw of the game itself, and the type of people who played chess at a competitive level, I needed to research. Football had commentary. Why not chess? I know online chess is a thing, and after some digging, I found annotated chess games online. I read enough to get a feel for how I wanted the story to progress and give the plot some realism, and was even inspired to create one of the main characters, “The Wizard of Riga,” based on a few of games featuring a real player named Mikhail Tal. He was one of the most celebrated grandmasters of chess, and his personality shines through the annotations. From his biography, I learned that chess has always been popular in Eastern Europe, with matches played on television, in front of enormous crowds, in ballrooms, in their capitals with accolades given to the winners. As I did more research online and developed the setting, I began to wonder if I shouldn’t include the internet, too. After all, online chess was a popular venue for professionals and amateurs alike to practice their skills, similar to how I use the internet to communicate with writers. The internet is paradoxically a tool for communication and a cause of isolation. The research began to coalesce into a story.

With this research I started the story during the world chess championship finals in Moscow, between the two main characters: Lena and Misha. The story took three days to write and type up, and currently stands at 2008 words. Here is the first paragraph, unedited.

The Chess World Championship was held in a sweltering hotel ballroom. Lena’s fingers subtly pinched the inside of her thighs as he mind roved in monochrome: black moving on white, ebony spearing marble. But it wasn’t working out that way. Her opponent’s hands— long-fingered, smooth-nailed— pinched his pieces forward, hunger expressed step by step. He wanted to get her, and she was excited. His hands moved in subtle ways and his black shifted to sac a rook. The crowds murmured and shifted.

It sucks. And it sucks because I didn’t know the ending when I started writing. For the second draft, before I start seriously editing, I’d like to do more research into annotated chess and contact a few power users on the chess forums. I’m also researching how other writers dealt with using the internet as a dramatic device in their writing. Then, I’ll restructure the plot to expose the internal heart of the story. As always, see you next time.

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