After writing and publishing some of your short stories, you might be thinking about putting together a short story collection. As you sift through your manuscripts to determine which stories you’d include in a collection, it’s also important to consider the order in which the stories would appear. The experts at Writer’s Relief have some helpful tips on how to arrange short stories in a collection in order to keep your readers fully engaged.
How To Best Arrange Short Stories In A Collection
Short story collections tend to start at about 40,000 words—which can come to about fifteen stories, depending on the length of each one. A short story collection can feature both published and unpublished works. However, having more stories in your collection that were published in literary journals will definitely boost interest from literary agents and readers. These published short stories show you have the skill to write a good story and that there is an existing audience for your work.
Short story collections work best when the stories have something in common. Unless you’re a famous, best-selling author, readers likely won’t want to pick up a collection where the only shared element is that the stories were all written by you. Though the commonalities in your stories can be subtle, they can also be arranged around a very specific topic:
- The same genre (e.g., a collection of several scary stories about different topics)
- The characters know each other (friends, enemies, classmates, family, etc.)
- The characters have a shared trait or occupation (e.g., stories about teachers, stories about brave women)
- In-common events from various characters’ viewpoints (e.g., different characters’ graduations from college)
- Retelling the same event from different characters’ perspectives
- A shared location (the same town) or similar locations (towns of a similar size, farming towns, beach towns, etc.), whether or not the characters know each other
- The same time period
- Similar themes or messages
Tips For Arranging The Stories In Your Collection
When choosing the order for your collection, you need to consider each story as an individual element and the collection as a whole. Here’s how to decide which story goes first, which should be last, and what should be in the middle.
Read your stories. Of course you know your own stories! But if some time has passed, you may not recall every character or plotline. Familiarize yourself with each story’s strengths and weaknesses. Look for the elements in common that can serve as the collection’s theme. While you may already have an idea of which stories you want to include in your collection, consider all your potential works. You might discover some unexpected gems that are perfect for the collection!
Consider your writing style and voice. When choosing stories for your collection, consider your overall writing style. What are the hallmarks of your individual voice? This can include whether your writing tends to be more “flowery” or straightforward, literary devices or vocabulary you use, and whether you focus more on character development or plot twists to drive your stories. Make sure that voice shows up in every story in the collection: Each short story should be recognizable to readers as uniquely yours. If one of your stories is very different, it’s probably not right for the collection at hand.
Notice the topics and themes. What is the topic or theme of each individual story? Take the time to notice similarities and differences. Take note of each individual short story’s key topics and theme, and write it down in a word or two per story. Then review this list and ask yourself: What is the theme of this collection overall? Do any of the individual stories’ themes create a natural progression? For example, a story about betrayal might lead into a story about revenge, or one about moving forward.
Review any connections. If your individual pieces are interconnected in some way (written about the same town or major event, for example), you’ll want to be sure they work together to form a progressive story arc. Taking this into account can quickly answer your questions on how to arrange them! For example: Does one story include more expository information? If so, you may want to put it at the beginning. Is there a story that offers a pivotal twist? Perhaps you can place it near the collection’s climax. And if there’s a story that gives away the conclusion, it shouldn’t appear too early in the book!
Build an emotional arc. The collection’s overall emotional arc should build, peak, and resolve through the course of the collection. While each of your individual stories will also have their own emotional arcs, think about the effect you want to build between your stories as readers move from one to the next. You may find the stories fall into place very easily along that trajectory.
Take the stories’ lengths into account. If all your stories are around the same length, that’s great! If not, you’ll want to strategically vary their placement. For example, you might open with a relatively short story to grab the readers’ interest and ease them into the collection. The last story, on the other hand, can be longer to tie up any loose ends. Be careful to not put very long stories back-to-back, or readers may feel the collection is moving too slowly.
Evaluate the strength of each story. Take an honest look at your stories to determine which are the strongest. You’ll want to space those out throughout the collection: Open and close on your strongest pieces, and have another one mark the halfway point. In between, you can pepper in stories that may not be as flashy or solid. You should have strong stories spaced as “tent poles” to hold up the rest of the collection.
Once you have your stories selected and in order, it’s time to think about publishing. Writers of short story collections have more publishing options today than ever before—and Writer’s Relief has insider knowledge on all of them!
Remember, having short stories in your collection that were already published in literary journals will make it more appealing to readers and literary agents. If you need help getting more of your short stories published, the submission strategists and researchers at Writer’s Relief can help! We’ll pinpoint the best markets for your work and boost your odds of getting published. Learn more and submit your writing samples to our Review Board today!
Question: What is the title of your favorite short story collection?