You know what scares me? Short stories.
Not reading short stories – even though The Gathering Dark anthology has thus far sent several a chill up my spine – but writing short stories. Writing short stories has been my fearful bane since school all those years ago.
Writing short stories is a mainstay of high school English classes and college writing courses. It’s also one of the main avenues to get your work published as a yet-undiscovered author. However, I’ve never quite figured out how to wrap my head around crafting a short story.
If you’ve perused any of my ramblings, you’ll know that I enjoy providing depth and detail. I thrive on sharing backstory; I enjoy waxing poetically or humorously (sometimes at my own expense), and I’ve been known to describe a scene or setting for a handful of paragraphs. I won’t say I’m as loquacious on the page as Tolkien is when describing trees, but I’m a fan of flowery language (pun intended?). What can I say – I love words and their particular brand of imaginative magic. And this is part and parcel of why the short story format and I don’t jibe – I want to say too much and share too much.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I love structure and boundaries – I thrive within them and sometimes push them a bit. But I don’t enjoy the idea of having to tell a complete story in a limited amount of space by adhering to a specific word count.
Do I work within word-count parameters as a freelancer? Yes, every day. Do I respect those parameters? Mostly.
In contemplating this short story quandary of mine, I realized that I’m happy to work within such confines when writing nonfiction pieces like book reviews, print and online articles, blog posts, etc. Conversely, when it comes to my personal fictional endeavors, I want to loosen the reins, embrace a devil-may-care attitude, and write (ramble?) to my heart’s content. The current word count of my novel’s in-progress third draft is over 70,000, and there’s more yet to come – I’ve just got to find the time and get my hand to translate the movie that’s playing in my head.
You may read all this and say, well, Alex, there are several types of short-form fiction that you could attempt: nano-fiction (microfiction), short stories, novelettes, or novellas. After all, short stories can range from a mere 1,000 words (which is roughly two and a half double-spaced pages) to 10,000 words – couldn’t you tame yourself, tamp down your turgid, long-winded self, and try to write something that fits into that genre’s realm? Maybe.
Would it be a great challenge for me as a writer to force myself to draft a short story? Yes. Will I actually do it? Undecided. I’ve been avoiding such a challenge for years.
While still a student, I would subvert the syllabi by writing a chapter of a larger piece I was concocting. Were the chapters good or well-fleshed out? Heavens no. Did they fulfill the assignment? Technically, yes. Because what is a novel’s chapter, if not a short story, buttressed by other short stories that all go together? Am I rationalizing and justifying my semi-seditious behavior? Absolutely. But, since having a recent conversation with my boyfriend about how anyone can rationalize anything, my actions are par for the human course.
I think, as readers, we can all agree that a chapter must be a short story capable of standing on its own legs. Every chapter has a narrative arch – a beginning, middle, and end. Sometimes a chapter offers a feeling of completion, while other times you’re left hanging…until you turn the page…unless the author has decided to switch gears and focus on a different aspect of the plot. We get wily like that sometimes.
Fellow writing students during my college years were amazing at crafting short stories. I recall reading their work and being floored by their ideas, characters, and ability to tell a complete story in ten pages or less. And today, I have writer friends who can pen a brief tale that hooks you immediately – it impresses me to no end. But short stories remain one of my cruxes.
Someday, I should face my fear and attempt a short story that isn’t a chapter of a bigger piece. But, for now, I’ll keep that format at arms-length, continue to appreciate the short-form work of other authors, and carry on with my novel – weaving one ‘short story’ into the next, chapter-style.
For those disappointed in my lack of short story effort, the best I can do is share that I’m drafting my six-word memoir, which is a fun activity if you’re feeling reflective. My mini-memoir may come into play down the road, but that’s a topic for another time.
Coming up next:
Undecided & unvexed – I’ll think of something 😉