I have to wonder how much thought an author has put into the smallest of details in a short story, now that I’m a writer myself. It’s not something you necessarily think about as a reader. “It’s just a short story” you might think – why would the writer have bothered doing extra research on a character name, a back ground story or have gone as far as to implant “Easter eggs” to connect that short story to some of their other fiction (I had three of these in one of my short stories)? You might expect those things from a novel, but a short story?
I have to admit it. I can get a little obsessive over things like research no matter what I’m writing – I’ve researched turbulence in depth for a flash fiction piece … a humorous one. But, I get an idea, the seed of a story, and I want whatever I weave around that core to be something special and exact. To give you an idea of what I mean, I’ll use my story “Octavia”, published in Crooked Cat’s Fear anthology. I’ve done this with fantasy stories as well, but I think “Octavia” is a great example of the little things I put into a story on many levels that no reader may ever notice is there, but which probably enhances the story to some degree. Or, at least, I hope it does.
I’m not terribly frightened of spiders, but I wanted to write a story about someone attempting to cure another person of arachnophobia with his own carefully calculated (and completely unethical) treatment. The fear for me was not the critters, but the main character’s horrific methodology.
I started by picking the story’s name. I went with “Octavia” because of the association with the number eight, but I decided I wanted to use something historical to pick my protagonist’s name and after some digging into roman history, I found just what I needed. That’s how Augustus got his name, Octavia being his half-sister.
But that wasn’t enough. If I wanted to make the treatment method plausible, I had to research phobia treatments that already existed. I wanted to combine a selection of them, be able to make references to experts in the field and take the new treatment to the next extreme.
Remember, all this was just for a short story. And there was more…
I realized this entire experience would be a traumatic, and made sure to incorporate the phases of mourning as Octavia faced what she felt would be sure death. If you follow her reaction to the steps within the treatment, you can actually see what I mean.
You would think that would be plenty. It still wasn’t enough for my satisfaction. I researched arachnid associations with food, little known facts about spiders and information about their venom. That gave me enough to finish up the tale – a typical short story of standard length, teeming with details that had emerged as a result of my research.
How many people are likely to notice? Very few, I would suspect, but I know everything that went into that story and that effort is important to me, just as it is with most of my stories.
So the next time you are reading a work that’s fictitious in nature and you come across something striking in the narrative, some fact that adds credible structure to the tale or some feature that makes the story seem that much more realistic, consider the extra time and effort the writer likely invested in that story to put that in there. Those things are there in the hope that they’ll be appreciated for what they are – a little something extra.