Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Art of the Short Story

cropped-1187067_492134337546957_2041107084_n-e14086479232141.jpgLet me tell you, and if you’re a Writer, you already know, there is nothing easy about writing. If it were, everybody would write. While it’s true that everyone has a story to tell, and also true, nearly everyone has a book in them, if it were easy, then everybody would be writing their stories. It’s just not that simple. Harder still, to get that story or book to make sense going from your head to your fingertips and out onto an intimidating blank page. Add to that, a firm grasp of grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, syntax, passive voice, pacing, defining and forming characters and conflict, creating plots, looking for plot-holes, and maintaining continuity all while searching for vision-inspiring words that create pictures in your readers’ minds, and so much more, it’s just not easy.

 

I began my incredible journey writing my scathingly humorous memoir, which after a seven-year long journey with it, is finished as of the spring of 2014. Maybe another polish over it, but for the most part, it’s done. It’s such a huge part of my life and an extremely personal one, I find it difficult to shop it around to agents and so, instead, it’s sitting locked in my desk drawer, waiting to grow its wings and fly; If I ever find the courage to release it. I suppose I’m what you would call, a scardey-cat. No matter. When it’s time, it’s time, and anyway, I’m not quite sure I want that book to be my debut novel. I’ve reread it a few times, and truth be told, I’ve grown immensely since then, so, maybe it isn’t finished. Perhaps it needs a new rewrite in my more ‘grown-up’ voice. Whatever. I’ll get around to it at some point, but in the meantime, I’m having the time of my life writing stories with more brevity. The short story, to be exact.

 

Comparing the short story to novels is pretty unrealistic. In a novel, you’re able to languish with your words, create more and multiple conflicts and characters, and you’ve got a great deal more white-space to play around with. True, your story still needs to unfold steadily, but there’s so much more time getting around to building your climax for your grand finale. In a short story, this isn’t the case. A short story is more succinct. Word counts vary on the short story, and are usually predicted by your publisher, or a competition’s requirements, though generally most short stories fall into the 3000 to 4000 word count, as compared to a novel – which is also at the mercy of the publishers – but generally speaking, those word counts run around 90,000 to 120,000 words and often more. So, you see the difference already. Short stories are to the point.

 

Writing a short story requires two main things: a great story idea and – focus. Narrow focus, to be exact, and you need to keep that focus honed through the entire story. Keep asking yourself as you go along, what’s the point of my story and how do I want it to end. What’s the story really about, and what isn’t it about, so that every time you veer off course, you’ll remind yourself of what’s important to say, and what isn’t. The body of the story still needs to incorporate a beginning, middle and end, just as in a novel, but in the case of the short story, you only need focus on one main conflict and a few main characters. Sometimes you may have a second minor conflict, but not having much space to play with, generally you would focus on one plot, one conflict, a few scenes, or even just one scene, and a small smattering of well-developed characters. And, there’s no room for fluffy, purple prose or filler words either. Cut all that stuff from your narrative and keep it clean and streamlined while still delivering a KAPOW story with a phenomenal climax!

 

It’s not as easy as it sounds, either. One would assume a shorter story would be easier to write, right? Wrong. It’s much more difficult. Sometimes, incredibly difficult because you still have to create the depth of plot, conflict, characters and scenes and not use your entire word count to do it, and you still need to build towards your finale and resolution throughout the entire story. Having fewer words makes your story tinier, but you still have to deliver the KAPOW! If you don’t, your story will flop, face-first into the discard, do not resuscitate pile. Though, you may want to resurrect it at some point with a healthy dose of rewrites. I’ve personally had a few of those along this fantastic journey, and some day, I’ll revive them with a good rewrite, but rather than bemoaning the fact that my story flopped, I list it as a work in progress and move on to something better. There are rare moments when I’m not pushing deadlines, when my workload is small that I take another crack at it and usually, I get what I was after the first time, and if I don’t, I place it back in the WIP folder and move on once more.

 

This is the art of writing short stories, and as always, there are more rules and things to consider, but these are the main points to bear in mind should you decide to tackle writing one, and I hope that you will. I took up the mantle of writing the short story as a challenge to myself, because I want to stretch myself beyond comfort, I want to learn all I can about this crazy business I’m immersed in, and because I want to be a well-rounded Writer. Believe me when I say, it was frightening and exhilarating at the same time to test these waters, but what I’ve come to know is, I love writing short stories. Why? Well, I’m an impatient person in some respects, and writing novels, though I love doing them – I have three in progress as we speak, and yes, I will finish them, I always do – takes a greater time investment, and as I’ve told you, I’m impatient. Writing the short story is much more immediate. The gratification I get writing the words, “The End” a lot sooner than I would in a novel is pure adrenaline to me. I’ve accomplished a finished project, a finished story in mere days, rather than months or years, as was the case of my memoir. I don’t want to wait months or years for my readers to deliver feedback on my stories, I want that feedback now. It keeps me jazzed to write more, which I do, because I like feeling jazzed! And, after all, I’m Just Me.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience, and as always, if you did, please leave a comment and share me! 😀