Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts on Short Stories

I've put Lharmell and The Harmings aside. Lharmell is on submission and I've written about 80% of The Harmings, book two in the trilogy. I don't want to steam too far ahead. It seems unwise as changes might need to be made. Ginger is reading what I've done of my standalone urban fantasy right now to see if it has potential. I'm very excited about it so I hope she thinks so!

So what's a writer to do? It seems silly to start a fourth novel when I'll only have to turn away from it in a matter of weeks. I'm hardly the world's biggest fan of the short story, for various reasons, but writing one seems to be a good way to fill in some time. (I've also just started a new hobby that I'm loving, inspired by some research I did for The Harmings. But more about that next week!) And really, how hard can a short story be for a novelist? 3000 words? Pfft. With eyes closed, my dears.

Uhhh...No. It's sending me batty. It's so hard! The plotting itself was a dream. I spent a day researching Norse mythology for some story ideas. I love getting inspiration from obscure fairy tales and myths. I found my chick, smooshed her story together with a few other stories I'd come across, added a liberal dose of poetic license to give it the sort of ending I was after and voila! An outline for an entire story in one very casual day.

The next day I started writing. I wrote the opening paragraph...over four hours. Then I had to eat a mighty slab of Christmas cake to soothe my jangled nerves. I don't know much about short stories, but I do know that word choice counts. Word choice always counts, of course. But in a novel, if I feel like describing an outdoor scene for two pages I bloody well will. Ain't gonna cut it in a short story, though. It's an interesting task, seeing with how few words I can set a scene. My lavish comma use has had to stop as well. I've turned into a veritable Gertrude Stein when it comes to punctuation. Not a semicolon in sight, and all short sentences.

Also, by the time someone picks up Lharmell in a book store it will have had an army of people to do its hair, make-up and lighting. It will be fierce! The short story, however, is just me. And maybe one or two friends pointing out my most glaring errors. Eep!

The current word count stands at 1,300, a woeful number considering that I'm not working at the moment. (Waitress for hire! Can carry three plates and almost never drops beer on people.) But they are 1,300 very well chosen words, and while the characterisation is still in its infancy, I'm liking how the world is shaping up. And I've got a scene for Mireyah's Fighting Scene Blogfest on Feb 1, yay! If you haven't signed up yet, do it here.

I planned to have the damned thing done by now to post here in three parts. Not gonna happen! Next week.

What do you find to be the differences between novels and short fiction? Readers and writers, opinions please!


  1. I think short stories have more of a mysterious, you only write so much about the characters and the story and theres less there for you to take in and, if its done right, you wish it would continue. I love reading short stories, and wish you luck on yours :)

  2. I had to write a short story for my creative writing club because we were supposed to collect them and try to get it published (though I doubt that will ever happen as no one ever comes to the meetings, myself included sometimes). And they said it only had to be TWO thousand words! That is hard right there, wedging a story in 2K. Long story short, my short story needs serious revising and I learned not to focus so much on describing a taxi. This is why I don't write short stories. Haha. Good luck w/ yours!

  3. Short stories are work. Seriously.

    I wouldn't worry about every word, though. If your idea is something that can be done in short-format, just write it, and trim later. It's the same thing as novel writing, just with smaller ideas. (I think, anyway.)

    Good luck on the story, though! I'll look forward to it. :)

  4. I am not normally a fan of short stories, except sometimes when I am.

    Um, yes, helpful.

    I prefer both reading and writing things that are ongoing. With writing, i feel like i need to like the character to write them, and if I *really* like them, I can't let them go, I want to see what they do next.

    With reading, I do love many short stories. I was a huge fan of the sci-fi short story twist-at-the-end format for a long time (and traded anthologies with my awesome English teacher). But I find that I usually can't bring myself to care much about the character, and maybe it's because I know it's only going to be brief. If i feel that it's not necessarily the end, and the character could turn up elsewhere, i tend to enjoy it more (like Asimov's Susan Calvin stories).

    When you have short stories that don't need to end at a single story, like Sherlock Holmes, those are the exceptions that prove the rule, because the character is everything with Holmes.

    I also like short stories where the *world* might be ongoing... so you might have no characters continuing across necessarily, but you feel like you're getting glimpses into something.

    Although even if it doesn't continue on, when it brings up something that *could* be explored in greater depth, and you go away still thinking about it, it still works for me.

    With novels, i think it's easier for the author to bring in symbols and interesting ambiguously-metaphysical (even spiritual) sorts of things without losing realism. If you do that in a short story, it's more likely to either change the entire character of the text, or, if it's left out, leaves the story feeling like it doesn't really capture what it actually feels like to be alive (i think it's this phenomenon that makes me avoid non-fantasy/sci-fi stand-alone short stories... we had to read a book of those for either English or Lit in high school, and it turned me off completely!).

  5. Oh, I just wanted to clarify, when i said "change the entire character of the text", I didn't mean "change it for the worse", i just meant, it starts to *define* what you've made, rather than leaving you the option of 'realism'.

    Also, i wanted to say, but somehow didn't with all the self-indulgent rambling I was doing, that your idea sounds like exactly the sort of thing i'd love to read. Am really interested!

  6. I'm thinking about tackling a short story sometime too. Considering taking characters and a situation from wip, not sure if that's a good idea or not. Someone commented recently, I can't remember where, maybe on Simon's blog about the ABCD's of writing a short story. The only one I think I remember is C, conflict. I wish I would have made notes, it seemed so obvious at the time, I didn't think I'd forget, but alas, I did.

  7. I suck at short stories. I went through a phase a few years back when I wrote a stack. I thought they were beautiful and clever but they were crap. I'm just not succinct enough. Good luck!

  8. Dannie--That's a good way to put it, wishing it would continue. Definitely the trick.

    vanille--2000! Yes, that's really short. One of the reasons I've always been put off.


    David--I think I should read some of these sci-fi stories you speak of...

    Elle--I've heard of the ABCBDs (or something) of short stories: Action, background, conflict ... something ... denoument? Something like that! I'll have to look it up.

    Jade--Argh, thanks I need it!

  9. I find it's sometimes better to write enough words to hopefully trim about 25% at the end. It's tough to be succinct while making sure that the story contains enough description. The only way I know to improve is to continue reading people who are better than me.

  10. I tend to enjoy the open-endedness of short stories. There doesn't have to be that final, 'and they lived happily ever after' feel to them. It's really a self-involved scene, or period, rather than a life. You know? In any case, I love short stories, but it's a very recent love. Can't wait to read yours!

  11. I really enjot short stories, the only bug bearer for me is when I really connect on a deep level with the characters, it really gets me down when the story is over in such a small amount of time. I've tried to write so so many short stories, but they always end up either going nowhere, cut short to quick, or the characters involved seem to take over my brain and demand it be turned into a big epic story.

  12. I think they're just different things. Some ideas need to be written as a short story. Some need to be full length. And sometimes a novel can grow out of a short story. I do enjoy the relative immediacy of the short form but, yes, the writing has to be very lean, without a word out of place. I sometimes think it's half-way to poetry ...

  13. It's honestly a little crazy how our blog posts follow along the same lines sometimes. Just today I posted how much I hated writing short stories, then offered part 1 of 3 of a short story I wrote in college as an example of tackling my writing weaknesses. Can't wait to read yours!

  14. Oh, I love short stories. Can be fun to write, but a lot of work. And I love that you're doing it, even if it never sees the light of da (although I have a good feeling it will!). Keep at it. It's good practice and will keep your skills nice and sharp.

  15. Oh, short stories are *hard*. Do you read many of them? I figured the reason I find them so hard is because I don't read many.

  16. Greg--That trim away rule is what everyone seems to be doing, but I'm an edit-as-you-go kinda gal. I rarely overwrite. Actually, I underwrite, and build up the structure of a piece gradually a section at a time. By the time I reach "the end" a piece is almost complete. I'm not sure why or when I picked this technique up, but it works for me.

    Yep, and I definitely about reading ppl better than you to improve.

    Celia--open-endedness and I, we don't get along too well! I need at least a morsel of resolution, and a sense of looking to the future--but perhaps this is what you mean. I'm gonna have to ask you about some of your favourite short stories I think!

    Donna--We are psychic sister posters I think! Going over to read your post now!

    Carolina--Oh you bet it'll be posted here! I'm gonna need heaps of feedback.

    Lauren--no. Therein lies my quandry. Last week I read my first one in a year, and after reading that ONE I thought I'd try my hand. Ha. Impatient writer much?

  17. Hahahaha!!! This is fantastic, I was loving every bit of your *ahem* journey. :)

    Short stories are awesome but they can be brutal (as you have well seen). I like to think of them as "glimpses" of something bigger. If I seem them as a part of a larger, richer work, I find it easier to capture the essence that is needed to see that glimpse.

    Any chance we will get to see this short story of yours once it is finished? :)

  18. Short stories don't have to be open-ended, but they do allow you to focus on minutiae that might inconsequential in a novel.

    To me, a short story is like a song. You can read it in one sitting and still have it affect you. A novel, a symphony, is beautiful, but it's a different form; sometimes you just want to hear a short, snappy song.

    As a writer, tackling short stories has made me much more word-efficient and concise. Plus it gets you experience writing on a variety of topics; if you don't particularly enjoy or gel with a subject, so what? It's only a few thousand words. It's also a confidence-building thing.

    Also, I'm terrified to try a novel.

  19. They all tell a story but some people are better suited to write short stories and others novels. The plotting, structure and pacing are all completely different. Sure, one writer can jump from one to another but it's not going to be easy. It's like switching from writing right handed to left. It can be done but don't expect the writing to be legible right off the bat.

  20. I used to say I wasn't into short stories, but I've realized I was wrong and just reading the wrong ones (Ray Bradbury changed my mind, among others). They are a fun challenge for me, because you have to be so limited and so precise, and the timing has to be right; it's a great way to hone your skills or experiment, I think.

  21. I always feel I should read more short stories. The most I ever read was in college for assigned reading and they were all fascinating. As for writing them, I found short stories to be less demanding than writing a novel; less pressure involved. Granted, I do want to write a novel one day and I know what I want to write about, but I guess the thought of it is just a bit daunting. I have to agree with Misty about the skills and experimenting; short stories are really great exercises. I loved that cartoon, by the way!