Saturday 30 January 2016

Decisions, decisions... the process of deciding what story goes where in an anthology

With Inklings Press approaching publication of its next anthology, one of the editing team, Leo McBride, discusses his thinking with regards to where each story in an anthology should be placed. 

I love short story collections. Be they from a single author or a selection, there's nothing quite like a good anthology. The range of ideas that sparkle within the pages, the different approaches to stories, the ways in which they can just make you think - launching you off in a thousand different directions.
A crucial component, however, is how the stories are arranged. Sometimes I've picked up anthologies and it's taken a few stories before they've gotten into their stride. You find yourself wondering why wasn't that story first, or why are those two stories with a similar theme rubbing noses with one another. You sometimes wonder if readers get past the first story at all and miss out on the treasures further in.
We're closing in on the launch of Tales From The Universe - the third anthology from Inklings Press. And shortly we'll be breaking out the post-it notes with scribbled titles on and shuffling them around the table to figure out which story should go where.
Advice from elsewhere says that in an anthology of different writers, you put the biggest name first and the second biggest name at the end. We're an anthology of new and upcoming writers, so we're all fairly fresh names to readers, so let's rethink that.
The best story first, the second best at the end, says another blogger. Well, that's a mixed bag. Absolutely, you want the first story in the anthology to draw the reader in. In our first anthology, Tales From The Tavern, The Bear-Trap Grave by Brent A Harris did that brilliantly. There was a somber mood, a pair of great characters and a perilous task ahead. I hope my own story, The Chickcharney, got things going nicely in Tales From The Mists.
But it's not as simple as saying best first. More crucially, I think it's the story that sets the tone for the anthology as a whole first. That can be a tricky choice, especially with the diversity and range of stories on offer. Still, easy choices are no fun.
At the end, you want to end your anthology with a punch in the air, a ringing finale that leaves the reader closing the book with satisfaction. I already know whose story I want to close out the next anthology... but it's early yet, and those post-its still have to be shuffled.
In between the opening and closing notes comes the melody, the high vs the low, the happy vs the sad, the comedy vs the tragedy. Varying the tone of stories between is the tricky part, making sure the tone never runs the same for too long. It's no easy process, but you want to help every story shine in its own right.
How successful will we be? You can find out when Tales From The Universe goes on sale. More details on that coming soon...

You can follow Inklings Press on Twitter at @InklingsPress.


  1. A great question I've asked myself with each of my anthologies...still don't know if I got it right.

    1. It's a difficult process. I swear when I was redoing Quartet I wondered a dozen times whether I should shuffle them around in order. And that's just four stories! With the bigger size of Universe approaching, I'm going to be having a nervous breakdown!