As an admirer and writer of short stories, I decided to challenge myself by writing a different genre. After a bit of research, I discovered I did not have to stray far from my beloved short stories! Enter: the short-story cycle (also called short-story sequence, short-story composite, composite novel and novel of interlinked stories). A short-story cycle is a collection of stories in which the stories are interlinked; however, each story can stand alone as an independent piece. A short-story cycle is not a collection of short stories but a cycle where each story is connected to one or more stories in the cycle. How do you approach a short-story cycle? Well…
- Planning a short-story cycle
Before I could jump into writing my stories, I realised I had to plan out my cycle. How will each story connect? How will I make the connections realistic? How long will each story be? I decided to write eight stories set on a quiet suburban street. I then wrote small outlines of each story and created a diagram to remind myself of which stories would connect.
- Uniting the cycle
There is no definitive way to unite a short story cycle; however, the structure of the entire piece can be united through a geographical location or a central protagonist. Rebekah Clarkson unites her novel Barking Dogs (2017) through the setting of a developing neighbourhood: Mount Barker. Employing the location as the uniting factor, Clarkson is able to develop her setting and expose the details of the suburban town. In comparison, Elizabeth Stout’s novel Olive Kitteridge (2008) uses the central protagonist, Olive, to unite her stories. Each chapter is told from a different perspective and/or a different time period, but the uniting factor is the reoccurring character of Olive. I decided to utilise both Clarkson’s and Stout’s methods of uniting their cycles. I have set my stories on a quiet, suburban street and used reoccurring characters in each story. Dialogue can be heard and characters can be seen from other stories.
- Ordering the stories
The stories do not have to be in a linear order. The stories do not even have to be in the same century! The beauty of the short-story cycle is that a reader could turn to any story in the cycle, read just that story and it would make complete sense by itself. To encourage non-linear reading I decide to create a contents page so readers can flip to whatever title takes their fancy. There is no rule stating stories of similar tone must be placed next to each other. Change the order up! Make it surprising and engaging for your audience.
- Ending the stories
Short-story cycles are not restricted to open endings. Instead, stories can have open, closed or unresolved conclusions. I found using the same kind of ending for each story could become predictable and a bit boring. Instead, utilise the openness of the conclusions for each of your stories! Remember, you can always hint at what occurred in another story by reusing a character from that story if you are uncertain about unresolved conclusions.
- Reoccurring motifs
Whilst reoccurring characters can unite your cycle, another subtle way to unite your stories is through reoccurring motifs. A motif is a reoccurring idea that short-story cycles employ. For example, a motif you might explore is loneliness. In one story, this motif could be obvious by a character voicing how lonely he/she is, or the motif could be subtle by a character sitting alone on a bench watching a couple chatting at a nearby table. Motifs are powerful techniques that allow readers to do the work to unite each story. I always feel like a detective when I piece together reoccurring motifs!
As I was writing my short-story cycle, the stories honestly did not seem that connected until I looked at the cycle as a whole. You don’t want all of your connects between stories to be too obvious; you want to make the reader do some work! A short-story cycle takes time to plan before it can be created, but once you start writing, you are in for a whirlwind of fun!