Friday, January 8, 2016

A History in Short Stories

On Wednesday, Giles talked about how he doesn't know how to write short stories. Since I just signed a contract for a short story this week (which will be my second published), I figure I'd talk shorts as well. Because why not?

I used to be in Giles' shoes--not knowing how to distill a story into something short without making it feel like a chapter in something larger, because the longer piece was what had my heart. In a fiction writing course I took at a community college, our final project was to write a short story. I wrote what I had thought was a nice little prequel piece to the novel I was working on at the time. The response from the class critique was unanimous: it read like a chapter of a book, not a self-contained story. So, major fail there.

Most of the other 'short stories' I attempted to write, for classes or for myself, fell into one of two problems: either they read like chapters, with too much left unresolved or not enough worldbuilding; or they wound up as vignettes to explore character, with basically no real stakes or tension.

Needless to say, I was frustrated. I gave up for a long time and just focused on writing whatever came to mind, despite the fact that I knew publishing short stories was good for beginning to build an audience and a platform. And, you know, expanding my skill set as a writer.

In the last two years, I've now written four short stories--two of which have been offered contracts for anthologies, one of that was written for a specific themed magazine call this year, and one that I'm probably going to self-publish (with it's companion story from the RMFW anthology). I find it helps when I have a theme to work toward--something specific from a content call, like "Crossing Colfax" or "Lesbian Supervillains." But maybe that's just me.

I wish I had a better handle on how to narrow down the scope of a story so the short doesn't sound like a chapter, but at this point, that still seems pretty mysterious to me. A friend once told me that a short story is like one moment, one scene, in a character's life. Which is a great way to think about it, as long as you don't get carried away with the world building and the rest of the character's life (which us long-form-writers tend to do).

I guess what I can say here is don't put too much backstory or foreshadowing on the page--write in just enough for the story to make sense. The more you put on the page, the more you hint at, the bigger the world seems to get and the more likely it is that your story will read like a part of something larger.

Good luck to everyone writing this year, whether you're writing short stories, longer pieces, or something else altogether. Keep at it, even when it feels like you're writing sucks. It will get better if you practice and keep trying.

Emily is still kind of in shock about the fact that she's signed her second publishing contract. She owes a great deal of thanks to her critique group for their help, and is looking forward to showering the internet with sparkles when her next short, Glitter Bomb, comes out this summer. She's also a little bit sorry about the length of this post. But only a little bit.

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