A bridge over a beautiful waterfall

A bridge over a beautiful waterfall
Nature brings magic

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Writing Wednesday - The Art of Writing a Short Story

I am a novella/novel writer. The art of writing a short, gripping story eludes me. I've written a few shorter stories, but they never seem to be finished. Or I don't develop them well enough to pass muster. They always seem to be lacking something, and I find myself trying to turn them into novellas or full length novels rather than figuring out what I can do to make them more compact and work as a short story.

I've found some interesting articles on my search for advice. This one and this one I found particularly interesting. I love how in the second article they refer to short story writing as the "garage band of science fiction". They have a point. Short stories are a great way to experiment and try something new that you haven't done before, without putting too much of an investment of time (compared to a novel) into it.

In close, let me share with you one of the reasons I think I'm not a good short story writer. This is the shortest story I've ever written. I've tried polishing it and I don't get very far with it. This is a rare case where I don't want to turn it into a novella/novel but the story premise is interesting to me.


Small feet pattered across the cracked tile floor.  Two figures in flowing white nightgowns crept along, stifling giggles as they slipped along towards the spiraling staircase leading to the rest of the house.  A tiny bell chimed discordantly from down below.  They paused just at the top of the stairs.

The only light below came from the moon shining through the broken windows.  She sat on a worn settee and stared out at the encroaching rose bushes.  Thorns as long as her hand gleamed wickedly in the silver light, looking like strange and twisted daggers.  She knew the children were there.  The giggling was unmistakable.  She didn’t look up, though.  It was too heartbreaking for her to see their smiling faces.

She closed her eyes and prayed for sleep to come.  It didn’t.  It never did.  Not since that day.  She fingered the pendant around her neck and cursed her husband.  Her imprecations didn’t matter, however.  Her husband was dead, buried, and turned to dust.

The children giggled again.  She sighed.  “Back to bed with you,” she called.  Her voice echoed strangely in the night.

The giggles took on a faintly dark tone.  “Why mother?  We want to stay up and watch the moon too,” her daughter said.

It was her daughter’s voice – and not her daughter’s voice.  Her precious little Light never used to have that soft growl in her dulcet tones.

“Don’t you love us, mother?”  That was Gale.  His piping voice held the same quality as his sister’s.

“You know I love you,” she said, rising from the settee.  Agony ripped through her heart as she turned to stare into the faces of the young imps staring down at her.  Oh they had the look of her lovely Light and her sweet Gale.  But no matter how much she wished differently these weren’t her children.

Like her husband, her children were dead.  These shades that stared at her with their dark eyes glittering like a pair of onyx stones were just another facet of her punishment.  She walked slowly towards the stairs.  Her tangled hair brushed against her back and the tattered remnants of her nightgown stirred up dust on the broken tiles.

“Mama, tell us a story,” Light begged.  She smiled cruelly.  “Tell us the story.”

She stopped, swaying a little on her feet.  That wasn’t a request she’d heard for a long time.  She halfway hoped she’d never hear it again.  “The story?” she asked hesitantly.

“Yes! Yes!” Gale shouted, jumping up and down.  He looked like a little boy pleading for his favorite treat.  As long as you could overlook the twisted smile splitting his face.

She bowed her head.  “Come down here and join me then,” she whispered.  She returned to the settee.  The children scampered down the stairs and climbed into her lap.  Their little bodies were cold and hard as they squirmed around in her lap.  They settled into comfortable positions and waited.

“Tell us, mama,” Light demanded.

“Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful and vain woman who was blessed with two of God’s angels,” she began.  “A happy little girl and a loving little boy.  But she couldn’t see that blessing.  Instead she saw how the children prevented her from living the life she wanted.”  A tear slid down one cheek.  “Her husband was a kind man who couldn’t understand why his wife didn’t love the angels as much as he did.  She did love the angels, just not in the way they deserved.”

“What happened next, mama?” Gale asked when she paused.  

As if you don’t already know, she thought bitterly. She cleared her throat.  “One night, the woman was sitting by the window dreaming and singing to herself.  The angels came downstairs because they’d had bad dreams.  The woman, angry with the interruption in what was the only time she had to herself, scolded them instead of offering them comfort.  The children ran from her back up to their room.”  Her hands trembled and the words choked her.

“Go on, mama,” Light said, no longer making any pretense at being the angelic child she portrayed.  Her eyes flickered a restless crimson, like the flames of that terrible night.

“One of the angels knocked over the candle used to guard against the night,” she said.  “Their mother ignored their screams until it was too late.  All of the upper part of the house was aflame and the angels were dead.  The woman was blamed at first but her grief made the authorities believe her when she said it was an accident.  Her husband never forgave her, though, and she was cursed.  She was forced to live in the house that had been the scene of both her greatest happiness and her greatest regret.  And there she lives to this day.  She is unable to die and unable to forget.  She watches as the world she knew leaves her behind.”

“What else?” Light demanded.

“She is haunted by her angels who have become demons to punish her for her crime,” she said in a barely audible voice.

Light giggled delightedly.  “We’re going to be together forever and ever, aren’t we?”  She wrapped her bony arms around the woman’s neck and hugged her.

“Yes, Light.  We’ll be together forever and ever.”


  1. That's not a bad short story. Very creepy, especially the very end. Maybe you're being too hard on yourself.

  2. Agreed--very creepy!

    I think, if you want my opinion, that it might work a little better if it took longer to figure out what was going on. Make the hints a bit fewer, maybe, string the reader along? Let the creepy grow without us knowing exactly why, then hit us with the reversal--oh, yeah, mom with her kids how sweet wait WHAT?