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I have given my novel to beta readers now. hurray! I'm also very pointedly not looking at it for a few weeks. I'm spending these weeks on other projects, including website design ... and writing short stories from the same world and setting.

The short stories will be freely available on the website. I plan to write a few stories developing minor characters from the novel. I also plan to explore other elements in the society that aren't really touched on heavily, in the novel. (Example, a short story centered around the role of religion.)

It occurs to me that I could make some big mistakes here - like I might inadvertently introduce spoilers to the novel, in the short stories. Ack!! Things that are reveals in the novel, should be protected from being discussed in the short stories. I will try to be hyperaware of this.

My question: What are the best guidelines for writing short stories to complement and engage readers on the internet for free, as a means of introducing the world and building a following? The goal is to attract people to buy and read the novel.

What are good features of the short stories, what should be avoided? Is it better to develop minor characters, introduce completely unrelated characters (for flavor, perhaps), or new elements that are 'taken for granted' in the novel (e.g. the role of religion or some other element.) As an internet surfer, if I stumbled across a website like the one I am building, I'd want to see several free short stories, not just one, and I'd want these to give me a survey of the world, and I'd want there to not be any spoilers in them. As the author, I am curious where my blind spots may be, and since many of you are experienced, I put it out to you - what other considerations should I be aware of?

A related question on SE:

How to use short stories to explore a new setting and potential characters for a novel?

(This is a good discussion from September which is more about using short stories as a means to develop a world. I'm not in need of that exactly, but would like to use short stories as one feature of an effective website.)

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I doubt there are any rules set in stone for this, but here are some suggestions:

Be careful introducing information. Your short stories will likely be considered "canon" so you don't want to introduce anything harmful for the bigger stories. Here are some of the things you should pay special attention to:

  • Introducing new tech ("if those people have gunpowder, why didn't they use it when under attack?")
  • Making a mess in the timeline (ultra-fast travel, characters in places they shouldn't be, mentioning characters not yet born, etc. There are many ways to screw this up, so I'm not expanding much)
  • Taking the characters off course (you may really want to write a story about your main character petting kittens, but they probably won't do it while there's an intergalactic war raging and they must reach Earth ASAP)
  • Introducing anything, anything that contradicts the "main" stories. Even worse if you try to justify a mistake on the original work. (Writing a scene saying that that Deus Machina was not actually Deus Machina because the character had found the McGuffin before, but you, the author, absent-mindedly forgot to tell the audience)
  • Scenes so important that they should be part of the main story.
  • Spoilers, spoilers everywhere. As an author, you know everything that will happen, so it's easy to let some secret information slip through. Pay extra attention to that. You may plant some clues for later use, but be careful.

Final note:

Ideally, everyone who reads the book will read the short stories and vice-versa, but this often won't be true. Your book has to work well without the stories, so don't introduce crucial things there and take them for granted later.

Conversely, the short stories should be enjoyable without the companion book, at least on some degree. Most short stories focus on minor characters or character backstory or, sometimes, what happens to the characters when the book is over. Think of the stories like DLC to the book. Content not everyone needs to read, but that will make the main book more enjoyable.

  • Wow. Those are awesome suggestions. Thanks! – DPT Nov 24 '17 at 19:15
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One author I'm working with is writing a collection of prequel short stories that show (dramatically and humorously) why the protagonists of his original novel gave up their prior careers (mentioned in the novel) as an actress/model and a policewoman. The stories also explore the earlier lives of original minor characters, such as a mentioned ex-boyfriend of the model. He even teases by having the two protagonists (who meet in the novel) cross paths in prequel but not quite meet.

I think the prequel approach is helping to keep him out of a lot of trouble with spoilers. Importantly, it keeps him from wandering into the future, which would create canon that sequel novels would have to avoid contradicting.

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