by K.J. Howe
It is with great pleasure that I welcome my friend Jeff Wilson, a Renaissance man (just look at his bio–yes, jet pilot and trauma surgeon!), to the Rogue Women blog. Jeff and I go way back, as we met at Thrillerfest many moons ago. Jeff co-writes with Brian Andrews, but he also flies solo as well. Today, Jeff is going to share his thoughts about short stories. I have sincere admiration for people who write them, as when you write short, you need to be succinct and connect readers with your character quickly. Hats off to Jeff for having those skills among so many others.
The Challenges of Short Fiction
by Jeffrey Wilson
A million years ago, as a kid, I began my fiction writing journey, crafting short stories and comics. In the beginning, I wrote fan fiction shorts based on my favorite TV shows. That led to me trying my hand at original fiction, and I published my first short story at fourteen. For the next twenty years, I wrote continually—sometimes with serious passion, sometimes for stress release from the rigors of professional life. But during it all, I always wrote with an eye towards short stories. The reason was simple: I didn’t think I had the discipline or the attention span (as my bio will attest, I change careers like some most people change socks) to write a full length story. The idea of filling hundreds of pages with my words seemed a daunting, if not insurmountable challenge.
All it took for that to change was a spark.
In 2005, I forward deployed with a FRSS team—a mobile surgical unit at the forward edge of the battlefield to give rapid surgical care to wounded Marines. In between crises, I found myself with chunks of down time to write. Then one day, after treating a badly wounded soldier, a story came to me—about a Marine, mortally wounded in combat, who finds himself transported to another life as a father, husband, and school teacher in middle America, far from the war that haunts him. Unfortunately, visions and dreams from his wartime reality keep intruding, forcing him to confront which “reality” is real and which is not. After writing five or six thousand words, I realized this was simply not a story that could be told in five to six thousand words. The story was so much bigger than that. The characters demanded more than a vignette; they wanted to be heard! So, I gritted my teeth and decided to try my hand at a novel length project. Less than a year later, that spark became my first completed novel, Fade to Black.
These days, I find myself in the opposite position. Brian and I have published ten full length novels together as Andrews & Wilson. When we decided to release a series of novellas featuring our favorite Tier One Series characters (TIER ONE ORIGINS) it felt like turning back the clock for me as a writer. Because, writing short fiction is a challenge. It’s hard! It takes a real gift for the written word to bring the intensity and action and character to only a handful of pages. Wrapping up a trip from A to B in your plot and your characters in only fifteen thousand words is real work, and for me harder, now, than writing a novel! It is writing restrained, but it brings as much joy even as it does its challenges. It forces you to keep your story simple, to unburden your plot from multiple layers of geopolitical intrigue and interpersonal arcs. In a short, you must focus intently on crafting truly character driven prose. Yes, in all of the series we write—and our individual books—we tend to write very character driven stories. But here, with less than a hundred pages to take you on a journey, we are afforded the luxury of focusing on one, seminal event in the life of these characters, and explore the impact that had on them in that moment, to create the characters that are now in the pages of the Tier One Series novels. What a rush and what a joy.
In writing the first novella, by exploring John Dempsey’s past, we’ve gotten to know him even better than before, and we hope that these stories allow the reader to know a side of our hero they’ve not seen before. There’s no room for wasted prose, no time for distracting subplots, and the story must be told with an economy of words. It made me realize how much I miss my many years of writing short fiction, and I hope, for our readers, it gives them a brighter glimpse of how our characters became the people our fans have learned to love in Tier One novels. And, maybe, we will help our die-hard thriller novel fans find a love for short fiction in the process.
|Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson|
Jeffrey Wilson is half of the Andrews and Wilson co-authoring team behind the #1 bestselling Tier One thriller series and the companion novella series Tier One Origins, as well as the upcoming Sons of War series from Blackstone Publishing and the The Shepherds series from Tyndale House, both coming 2021. He is the author of three, award winning supernatural thrillers and the faith based, inspirational war time drama War Torn. Jeff has worked as an actor, a firefighter/paramedic, a jet pilot, and a vascular and trauma surgeon and is a US Navy veteran with multiple deployments with an east coast based SEAL Team in the war on terror as a Combat Surgeon with Naval Special Warfare.