Since I prepare these articles quite far in advance, I’ll be talking about last year’s Halloween stories again. In particular, I’ll be talking about why short story collections should include a somewhat varied style, emotional tone etc… – in a similar way to how the episodes of a TV series might include a mixture of comedy, horror, serious drama etc…
This was mostly because the third story in last year’s collection of “retro sci-fi” Halloween horror stories (which I’d written the day before I prepared this article) ended up being more of a vaguely Philip K. Dick-style sci-fi comedy story than the two horror stories that preceded it. At the time I wrote it, I began to worry that the series was drifting off course somewhat. But, then I realised that there were some good reasons for including this story.
So, why should your short story collections include a certain amount of variety in tone, style etc..?
1) For your own sake: Simply put, varying the tone and style of the stories in your collection can help you to write more stories. Writing exactly the same type of story over and over again can get a little bit monotonous (for both you and your readers). Not only that, including several different types of stories can also help to keep you inspired by allowing you to draw on a wider range of inspirations too.
In addition to this, it can be good emotionally too. For example, one of the problems I sometimes have with writing “serious” horror fiction is that I tend to imagine the events of the story quite vividly. This means that, even with relatively mild horror stories, I can end up in a somewhat bleak, nervous and jittery mood for at least a few hours afterwards. So, writing a more comedic story was a way to give myself a bit of a break emotionally.
Another reason why varying the style, tone etc… of your stories can be personally useful to you is that it means that a wider range of stories can be “accessible” to you. For example, although I prefer writing from a first-person perspective, the first story in last year’s Halloween collection was written from a third-person perspective. This was mostly because I realised that, in order to tell this story, I’d have to use narrative techniques that only really “worked” when I used a third-person perspective.
2) Worldbuilding and themes: If your short story collection revolves around a common location, theme and/or set of characters, then variety is an essential tool for helping your readers understand more about the central part of your collection.
By showing your collection’s common element from a variety of different “perspectives”, you can help your audience to gain a deeper understanding of it. After all, the real world includes a lot of variety. The life of, say, a detective doesn’t solely consist of solving a series of grim cases. A pub can be a place where people celebrate, as well as commiserate. The same thing can evoke different emotions in different people etc…
In addition to this, including some variety in your short story collection can help your audience to understand more about the “world” of your stories or the personality of your characters. Seeing other locations, seeing how your characters react to different things and seeing different types of stories happening in the same location can really help to satisfy (or provoke) your audience’s curiosity, which will help to immerse them more in your stories.
3) It’ll happen anyway: Simply put, when you start writing a collection of short stories, this is going to happen anyway. It seems to be an integral part of writing this type of fiction. So, you can save yourself a lot of stress by not worrying about it too much.
Seriously, even when you go back to the heyday of the short story, you can find quite a few examples of this from famous authors.
To give just one example, although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes solving murders, his Holmes stories also included things like a light-hearted “non-violent” Christmas story, a third-person perspective spy story, a story where Holmes tries his hand at being a criminal, a monster story (of sorts) narrated by Holmes, America-based historical fiction in this short novel and this one too etc…
So, don’t feel bad about including variety in your story collections. Not only will it happen regardless of whether you want it to or not, but you’re also in good company too.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂