short story collections

The Chemistry of Things: Shaping a Short Story Collection

I am trying to find the right shape for a short story collection. The more I try to put together a cohesive body of work, the more I realize that organizing a short story collection is a matter of chemistry, of finding the perfect combination of elements that will create new matter. Even though my collection is largely out of my hands at this point, the shape of it has been in flux. I’m also trying to figure out what work to collect for a second and third collection so I’m looking both forward and backward. I wish there was some kind of instruction manual for this. When I first began assembling my full length collection, I had no idea what I was doing. I still feel that way. Part of the problem is that I have a lot to choose from. I’ve been writing and publishing since 1999, using four different names. Most of my earlier work wouldn’t be appropriate for a collection of the sort I am trying to assemble but it’s still there and some of it still worth considering.

I keep coming back to the same questions. What stories should I include? In what order should I place the stories? Why am I making these choices? How do I want readers to feel while they’re reading the collection? And after? How do I make readers fall in love with the book? How do I make them see what I’m trying to say? On the one hand, I could arrange a collection by theme because there are a few dominant themes in my writing but would that make the collection too uneven, not diverse enough in tone? I could arrange a collection with stories that all have female narrators or male narrators or that are written in the first person or second person. I could take a kitchen sink approach (my first attempt) to try and demonstrate the range of my writing. I just don’t know.


Craft Notes / 38 Comments
March 11th, 2011 / 2:34 pm

I go to the beach. I ask what you are reading, your ‘beach book.’ 99.4 % of the time it is a novel. Why?