Writing Short Stories

I just submitted my story for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story contest. Five hours to spare before the deadline–plenty of time.

Everyone knows that writing a short story is different than writing a novel. But still, that fact kept ramming into me over and over again this past week. It ought to be SO EASY to write 1500 words after writing a 100,000-word novel.  

Shorter?  Yes.  Easier?  No.

With a novel, you have thousands of words in which to develop characters that the reader cares about, spin an intricate and engaging plot, and describe the setting. Sometimes the storyline doesn’t even end with that book–it might stretch throughout a series.  

With a short story, you have a few hundred words to write a complete, coherent story. The goals are the same as those for a novel, except the end result is approximately the size of 1% of a novel. Tight writing is crucial; every word must be important and necessary. It’s hard to write something so short and make it relatable and interesting. 

When I took a short story class in college, we read and studied some classic shorts. To be honest, I only enjoyed a few of those stories. Plus I got annoyed with trying to find all the symbolism. How could a reader know for sure if a mundane object or event really hinted at something else entirely?

I should’ve paid more attention to those stories, or at least found others that I liked. I have more respect for shorts now, and I understand why an author would want every precious word to have a double meaning. I wish I knew more about developing plots and characters specifically for shorts.

The last time I wrote a short story was… well, during that college class, so four years ago. In the meantime I wrote a novel though, so I was hoping my short-skills had improved as well. Heh. I think they probably deteriorated instead.

Last week I wrote a story (actually, I tried to recreate the story I wrote on scrap paper and lost)… but it turned out horrendous. Weird, dark, and boring, all at the same time. Syd read it and agreed that it was all of the above. So I scrapped that idea.

Then I thought about writing a story set in the world of my novel, from Cal’s POV instead of Ivy’s. I got really excited about it–until I realized it would spoil Cal’s secret for anyone who hadn’t yet read the novel. Idea #2, meet the trashcan.

I emailed Syd with all my woes and whining, and she suggested I write a story based on a novel idea she and I had brainstormed last year. At first I thought, “No way can I do that storyline justice in 1500 words.” But I started writing it anyway, just to see where it led me.

The result was surprising. Somehow I ended up loving it. I sent it to Syd, and she loved it, too. She said it made her want to write the whole novel, LOL. Since the story is about twins, I sent it to my favorite twins, Vicki and Sav. Vicki was sick (*sends get-well wishes!*), but Sav was able to do a quick beta for me. She thought I portrayed the twins realistically, so that made me happy.

I wrote the first draft on Saturday, edited on Sunday, and polished on Monday.  The really hard part was deciding on a title, but I finally chose “Magnetic” (which I liked because it can apply to four different aspects of the story). So now the story is submitted, and I won’t know until February whether I placed or not. Either way, it was a great learning experience (and possible character-building exercise for future novel!).

So the question for the day:  how do you feel about short stories–either reading them or writing them? Love ’em or hate ’em? If you write short stories, what are some tricks you’ve learned in the process?

Hope everyone is recovering from the holiday weekend! NaNoWriMo has ended–how did you guys do?? I can’t believe it’s December already–more Christmas/winter posts to come on LJ, if I get time. Have a great week, everybody!


4 thoughts on “Writing Short Stories

  1. I have to agree with you – each form seems to present its own challenges. As a writer who focuses mainly on short-short stories I approached NanoWrimo with a sense of – almost – fear.

    It has been a massive amount of fun to attempt a novel in such a short amount of time and a real reminder of the differences each form throws at you. Not less enjoyable though!

  2. Congrats on your NaNo attempt! Are you happy with the result?

    Each form certainly presents its own challenges. But I think it’s important for writers to push themselves beyond their comfort zones. It’s a great way to learn and improve writing skills.

    Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  3. I am extremely happy with the result – I think one of the reasons I did not hit the target was because I was ensuring a degree of planning. That way I can skip the first draft and try to write something a bit more coherent first time around.

    whether or not it is successful is, of course, yet to be judged by those unlucky souls who read it 🙂

    I am a firm believer in the idea that the best way of getting better as a writer is doing more writing so it is certainly a great way to improve!

  4. Coherency is a good thing! 🙂 I had a friend who reached the 50K mark, but she wasn’t very happy with the overall quality. When I did NaNo last year, I reached 50K… but that was only the first half of the book! I didn’t realize until later that I was supposed to aim for a rough draft of the complete story, beginning to end, LOL. Maybe I’ll try that method next time. Everyone has different approaches though, so we use what works for us!

    Good luck with your novel!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s