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Short-stories are a nice format to write. If you have been an aspiring writer for at least one year, it's quite probabile that you've got at least three short stories drafted out, sitting in some drawer or some hidden folder on your computer.

Let's imagine now that you want to publish those stories, bundled together in a book format. What should tie them together? How do you choose which story "belongs" to the collection?

Of course, the stories will have, at least, the common denominator of having the same author. But - due to marketing reasons, I suppose - that isn't often a viable option for a new writer.

Again, for marketing reasons, it seems to make more sense to clump short stories of the same genre together. Sci-fi readers will be more likely to buy a sci-fi short stories collection, rather than a book that mixes up thriller and fantasy.

Should the stories in a collection have a common genre? Should they share a common set of themes, or even characters?

In short: what should tie a collection of short-stories together?

Related:

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If you can make a good case, you could potentially group the short stories by whatever common thread you want, including author. You can also subgroup them. Some examples:


Main point in common: author
Secondary point in common: genre

This is the most common, I feel. The best of Stephen King's short-stories will definitely be all in the same genre. But you could have a mix of genres: I own a collection of short-stories by George R. R. Martin which includes fantasy and sci-fi.

When you have two or more genres within, I think it's a nice approach to divide the book in sections so the readers know what to expect and, if they only want to read one genre, they can easily do so.


Main point in common: genre

This is also very common. In this case, the short-stories could all be by the same author or by different authors. If you have more than one tale by author, though, you may still want to not group them by author: that could lead the reader to focus on known authors and overlook the lesser known, I suppose.


Main point in common: characters

The adventures of Poirot or Miss Marple come to mind. This will typically mean the short-stories are in the same genre, but there could be a few which stray away. Imagine that the Adventures of Miss Marple includes a couple of stories of her past, including a tragic love story (no murder or robbery involved).

Such a collection is also a viable way of writing a sort of biography, showcasing important moments in their life.


Main point in common: theme

This can easily get mixed up with the genre, but I find that truly theme based collections tend to go for literary short-stories.


Main point in common: setting

Short-stories written on a specific time frame or location. James Joyce's Dubliners is a collection of short-stories set in Dublin, but of course their aim is to focus on the character of the people who live there. One could have a collection of short-stories set in the Middle Ages in order to convey what life - in different walks of life - was like at the time.


Main point in common: an object

In this example, you'd have an object and all the stories would be connected to it. Say you want to write about the Book of Kells! You start with the story of its creation, then you show how it was moved from place to place, perhaps a story where people go about their normal lives without even realising what a treasure lies there.

I've never seen one like this, but it could work!


Main point in common: photos or images

I've got a book where a photographer challenged different authors to write short-stories inspired by his photos. You got from mystery, to adventure and even a bit of horror and something bordering on fantasy.


In conclusion, find a common point that makes sense and, if need be, group the stories in sections.

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    There's some experimental work that focuses on an object -- there's a novel where there are 111 apartments, and the book is a vignette from each apartment at a certain point in time. (memory from Wikipedia article, not actually reading the book, so details may be mangled.) – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Mar 15 at 14:55
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    I think the aptly-named The Machine of Death collection fits the object part. – svavil Mar 15 at 17:39
  • Yellow trench coats, roses, and the number 19. – Mazura Mar 15 at 23:57
  • The idea of the object-related stories is really interesting. It kinda reminds me of how some filmmakers leave "details" around their productions to "string" them together. Maybe it's worth a try! – Reinstate Monica. Mar 27 at 18:17
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The most common and easy way to identify which stories belong together is the genre as you have already identified. Therefore I won't say anything more on that topic.

The next common way is to have the same topic. You are free to choose whatever topic you find interesting here: the standard The Hero's Journey (Warning: TVTropes link ;) ) can easily be placed in a sci-fi setting, or a fantasy setting or basically any other setting you find interesting.

Or you could make stories about cats. I like cats, so I could write about fantastical cats with supernatural abilities rescuing the world, a short-story about the problems of a cat family living homeless in our present-day world and a comedic view on how cats will surely rule the world in a couple thousand years due to them being absolutely adorable and awesome.

Or maybe you have a sword that played an important in your first middle-age short story as the great "dragonslayer". And in the next short story you are looking at the importance of such a valuable object for a collector in the present setting.

You get the idea: if you have one central topic you might find readers interested in that particular topic who don't care so much about the genre or want to get a quick look at other genres that they may have not read so much until now.

Another option would be to go abstract. "Only stories with 700 to 800 words", "Never mention the gender of the protagonist", "Always try to imagine the scene from the point of view of a dog", ...

You need golden thread - but what exactly that is is up to you. Just make sure your readers know what you are up to and what they should expect.

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+50

In an interview that I can't find now, Neil Gaiman stated that the short stories in his latest collection Trigger Warning had one element tying them together: they were all the short stories he had written since the last collection. He said that when people came to him and talked about themes explored in the collection, he nodded, but he had not consciously noticed the presence of those things before.

The stories in Trigger Warning, as well as in his earlier collections Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things do not share a genre: some are fantasy, some - horror, some - magical realism, I suppose. Some are in unusual formats, that aren't a story per se - one is framed like answers to a questionnaire. Some are poetry. Or, if you wish, they share only a very broad genre - "speculative fiction".

You could, perhaps, argue that even publishing his first short stories collection, Neil Gaiman was no longer a "new writer". All the same, I would steer away from making all the short stories in a collection belong to one narrow genre, or explore one single theme. Picking up a short stories collection, I expect experiences that are diverse. I want to get different things, not more and more and more of the same. I would much rather have fantasy and thriller and sci-fi than sci-fi and sci-fi and sci-fi. (Unless sci-fi is all you do. That's fine too. I Robot is a very well known short stories collection, all about a single sci-fi element, all exploring one idea (the Three Laws of Robotics) from different angles.)

If you write in different forms and different genres, there is no reason why you shouldn't let the readers see all the things you can do. "Written by the same author" is enough to tie those stories together. (However, if most of your stories are one genre, or one theme, or set in one world, and then there's the one story that sticks out, you might want to keep that story for the next collection.)

  • "Picking up a short stories collection, I expect experiences that are diverse. I want to get different things, not more and more and more of the same" I never though of it this way. Interesting. – Reinstate Monica. Mar 27 at 18:15
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Think of the reader: a single individual—as a potential purchaser—isn't going to like every story in the world, at least not enough to commit money and time to read the book if they know they won't be interested in at least the majority of the content.

If all the stories appeal to a ten-to-twleve-year-old, that is good packaging. If half the stories appeal to teenage girls and half appeal to 50+ year old males, that is deplorable packaging.

That suggests closely related genres are useful, perhaps with a similar POV or outlook. But I can imagine some exceptions working well, such as contrasting POVs or multiple sides of the same situation.

I don't know if it is common for other people to feel betrayed by a book which starts out wonderfully—easy-to-follow, clear and concise—then becomes a hellish read. (Several technical books bruised my young brain in this way.)

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Mainly ask yourself what will draw someone to buy this book. Sometimes it is a famous name, sometimes it is a genre, sometimes it is a theme (first contact, combat with aliens, giant thinking tanks, etc.).

There are already many good answers here. I will mention another way to collate the stories.

Take a page from music albums. Pick and arrange stories so that they they form an overall narrative (plot or emotional journey). They don't have to be in the same universe or even genre. For example, a story of inner conflict, a story of one-on-one conflict, a story about a small skirmish, a story about a large battle, etc. ending with a story that contemplates conflict. It could also be a journey through emotions or moods.

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