Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Pen's in My Hand, Ending Unplanned*

When we think of crime fiction, many of us think of novels. We’ve all got favourite characters and series, and we look forward eagerly to the next instalment from our favourite authors. Novels have a critical place in crime fiction. They allow the author to develop characters, build tension slowly and weave together more than one plot line. But another form of crime fiction – the short story – can be extremely effective, too. It’s a different sort of crime fiction that allows for a different kind of appeal. Short stories allow authors to “cut to the chase” and tell a story quickly in a way that wouldn’t suffice for a longer novel. They allow the author to hint at details, relationships and so on in a way that would seem far too “bare bones” for most novels. For the reader, the short story is a way to enjoy crime fiction even when one hasn’t got a lot of time to read or listen. It’s also away to introduce a reader to a new author without the need to invest a lot of energy into a novel. Short stories also allow “breakout authors” to get some notice. And (dare I say it), short stories are often more easily adapted for television than are novels.

Arthur Conan Doyle is perhaps best known for his short stories that feature his sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Holmes appears in novels, too, of course, but most of his appearances are in short stories. In fact, my first introduction to Holmes was the short story The Red-Headed League, in which pawnbroker Jabez Wilson engages Holmes to solve the mystery behind his mysterious new job copying an encyclopaedia. Holmes agrees and finds out that Wilson has been duped by a gang of bank robbers.

While Agatha Christie is best known for her novels (I believe I’ve mentioned her novels once or twice on this blog ;-) ), she also wrote a number of short stories. One collection, Poirot Investigates, details some of Hercule Poirot’s early investigations, all told from Captain Hastings’ point of view. Christie also wrote other collections such as Murder in the Mews that don’t include Hastings, and several, including The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories that don’t feature Poirot at all. And then there’s Miss Marple’s Final Cases and Two Other Stories, that features Miss Marple, and Partners in Crime, that features Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Christie wrote a number of other short story collections, including The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories and The Regatta Mystery and Other Stories.

Other authors that we think of as novelists also write short story collections. For instance, Dorothy Sayers wrote several short stories after the publication of Busman’s Honeymoon. In them, she detailed the continuing adventures of Lord Peter Wimsey and his wife, novelist Harriet Vane and their children. She also, of course, wrote short stories that don’t feature the Wimsey family at all.

Lots of more modern novelists such as Ross MacDonald, Ruth Rendell and Martin Edwards also write short stories. It takes a particular kind of writing talent and style to make a short story memorable, so when an author can write both novels and short stories quite well, that’s noteworthy.

In recent years, there’s even shorter fiction available. For instance, Patti Abbott and Steve Weddle’s Discount Noir features flash fiction – very short stories. The Drabble, which has been mastered by Rayna at Coffee Rings Everywhere, tells a story in exactly 100 words. And Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer shows off the talents of authors who can tell a very short story – in just a few sentences.

The beauty of these short styles of story is that they allow an elegant and precise use of words that reach the reader immediately. Readers can experience the work of lots of different authors, too. But what do you think? What do you see as the role of the short story, the flash fiction story, or even the micro-story?

And Now It’s Your Turn…

I would love to read your writing. So I’ve decided to feature your stories on an upcoming post that I’m calling Fifty Words to Kill Your Victim. If you’d like to be a part of this, here’s what I’m proposing:

Create a murder story in exactly 50 words. Email your story to me at docjockey(at)yahoo(dot)com (or simply click the “Email Me” button on my sidebar). Please don’t post your story as a comment, because I’d like to share everyone’s stories at the same time on a post. Please Email me your story by Saturday, 13 November.

On Sunday 14 November/Monday 15 November, I’ll post everyone’s stories so you all can enjoy each other’s work.

If you’d like to share more than one story, that’d be great, too. I sure hope to hear from you!!

Here are a few stories I’ve done, to show you what I have in mind:


“Hurry up with that beer!” he bellowed. “You’re so slow!”

“Coming,” she called.

“Well, move it, then, bitch!”

She put the beer on the coffee table in the living room littered with his debris.

He took a long swig and fell over.

She smiled.

Weed killer works wonders on messes.


They stopped outside of her building.

“Like to come in for a drink?” she asked

“Oh, no, I –”

“Just one.”

He smiled. “All right, just one.”

He followed her up the stairs to the third floor, fingering the knife in his coat.

She’d be even easier than the others.

Sandler’s body landed with a sickening thud on the pavement.

Within minutes, an ambulance crew arrived to whisk the body away.

Everyone was shocked – no-one had known how depressed Sandler was.

On the tenth floor of the building, Hutchins sat in his office grinning to himself.

Now who’d fired whom?


“Excuse me, could I just step by and –”

“Get out of my way, you cow! I was here first!”

“But I only wanted to reach that box of cereal.”

“Get the hell out of my way until I’m good and ready to move!”


Clean up on Aisle 7!

So how about it? Want to give it a try? C’mon…it’ll be fun!!

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Natasha Beddingfield’s Unwritten.


  1. Love your post, Margot ~ and thanks so much for the mentions of DISCOUNT NOIR and the HINT FICTION anthology. Can't believe I'm in both:-).
    I've loved Natasha's UNWRITTEN since the moment I heard it on the radio the very first time...."Staring, at the blank page before you..."
    You've blown me away with your stories ~ they're terrific!
    I will certainly participate in your FIFTY I'll get to it! I look forward to reading the collection of stories.

  2. Kathleen - Thank you :-)! I'm very excited that you'll be participating, because you are really talented. It was no surprise to me at all that you are represented in both Discount Noir and Hint Fiction. You've got real writing skills.

    And thanks for the kind words about my stories *blush*.

    I love that Natasha Beddingfield song, too and have since I first heard it. It's quite a good "writer's anthem" :-).

  3. Excellent iniciative Margot. Problem with me is that I don't have the imagination neither the talent to write even a short story. I'm just a reader and can only appreciate, sometimes, the talent of you writers.

  4. José Ignacio - Thank you :-). I'm sure that you have plenty of talent and creativity. And in my opinion, there is no such thing as "just a reader." Without readers, where would writers be? But if you'd rather wait and read what everyone contributes, that's fine, too :-).

  5. I'm going to try to make a story but I'm behind on NaNo so I'm not sure I can - but I will try.

    My favorite mystery short story, beside the Nine Mile Walk is Philomel Cottage by Agatha Christie.


  6. Clarissa - Oh, I love that story! Philomel Cottage is a gem, isn't it? And so is The Nine Mile Walk. Thanks for reminding me.

    I completely understand your priorities; I think you have them in the right order. If you have time, I'd love for you to participate.

  7. Love your short stories. They make me want to know more about each situation. As I learn more about flash fiction and drabbles, I enjoy them more. Looking forward to your 'Fifty Words To Kill Your Victim' post.

    Thoughts in Progress

  8. Mason - Thank you :-). I think short fiction and micro-fiction can be really engaging, and I'm glad you enjoyed what I wrote. I'm looking forward to reading what people send to me, too :-).

  9. Margot,I'll read everyone else contribution.

  10. Those are wonderful short stories, Margot.

    I've recently been taking part in writing microfiction stories and I'm keen to write longer ones, so I'll definitely give it a go.

  11. Margaret - Thank you :-)! And I thoroughly enjoyed your microfiction post; folks, please do check it out. I'm so glad you've decided to give this a go, and I look forward to reading what you write.

  12. I will try to give this a shot. Have never tried anything this short before. If you read the review of the new King and Grisham books today in the NYT, she makes some good points about short stories.

  13. Patti - Thanks; I sure hope you do give this a try. I like the way you write :-). And thanks for the tip about the NYT review; I'll have to check that out.

  14. I think it is easier to write a rambling 400 page novel than a 50 word incisive short story. But if you hear loud creaking noises it might be my brain making an attempt. ;o)

  15. Gracious - a mystery in 50 words??? This could be interesting...

    Short stories take a special type of discipline. On the plus side, when you start writing, the finish line is way closer than when you start writing a novel. On the minus side, because that finish line is way closer you've got to use every step to its greatest advantage.

  16. Norman - You make a very well-taken point. It's easy enough to tell a story that goes on seemingly forever. To reduce a story to just 50 words takes effort. I do look forward to reading what you come up with :-).

    Elspeth - You capture the advantages and disadvantages of short stories quite well! They do allow the writer to finish quickly, but as you say, each sentence has to serve a very clear and particular purpose. That's not always easy to do!

    I'm glad you find the idea of the 50-word mystery interesting. I know I'm very much looking forward to everyone's contributions.

  17. Great post! Nice examples,too!
    I'm in a similar situation as that of Jose Ignacio Escribano. However I have decided to take the plunge and scribble something that might look like a mystery. :D

    A query though, is it compulsory to establish the complete motive for the crime?

  18. Amey - Thank you :-). And I'm so excited that you've decided to try your hand at this. I'm eager to read your work.

    No need to establish a complete motive. I'm just eager to see how people go about creating a 50-word mystery. I look forward to yours.

  19. I just love this post, really great, well I completely understand your priorities, and I am sure that you have plenty of talent and creativity.

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  20. Thank you so much for the mention. I have been thinking about short stories a lot recently (inspired mainly by various posts you have come up with), and the shorts of Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple are my favourites in the genre. Also the stories with a twist by O' Henry and Saki which I virtually grew up on.

    Your examples of 50 word murders are brilliant. I am definitely going to try, though I am not at all sure I would be able to come up with anything even halfway as good.

  21. Jenny - Thanks for your visit and the nice comment.

    Rayna - Short stories really can be an effective way, can't they, to tell a story. And you're right; Conan Doyle and Christie, O. Henry and Saki were all masters of the form. They require an entirely different sort of writing style, and are such a nice complement to novels.

    And I'm so glad you are going to contribute a story to my post! :-) Thanks for the kind words about mine, but don't sell yourself short; your Drabbles are wonderful; each one is a little gem.

  22. 50 words? Uhm, that sounds tough.

    Well, perhaps, if my cold gets better before Saturday.

  23. Dorte - I am sorry to hear that you've got a cold! I hope it gets better soon, whether or not you decide to contribute. I have to say, too that you're so talented I hope you do decide to give this a go :-).

  24. Great idea, Margot. Like Jose Ignacio, I shall read and enjoy - but I am no writer I am afraid.

  25. Maxine - Thank you :-). I am very much looking forward to reading what everyone contributes, too :-).

  26. I am still hoping to get to this, but my attempts are so dark compared to yours that I fear it will throw things off.

  27. Patti - Dark or not, I'd love to get your contribution. Seriously. No pressure, though...