Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Short Stories. Why? Why? Why?

Why do we write short stories? It seems like a crapshoot when the only ones who really read them are other writers. Right? Ask the average reader (who has no interest in writing) and they don't give a lick about the short story. They want novels. Something they can really sink their teeth into and will keep them engaged for hours, sometimes days.

Yet, we writers continue to dabble away at the short stories. Why? Why? Why?

Some writers just love short stories. They love the form. They love the conciseness. They love the fact that you can more easily play around and practice different things. They love that there's only one or two characters that they have to worry about figuring out. And short stories are more accomplishable. There's satisfaction in completing a piece. And being able to start a new project.

Then there's other writers who want to write a novel. But they've started and stopped more times than they can count because it's so darned daunting. Plot turns and twists, interesting characters, that have to carry over 300 pages. Ugh. Even thinking about it sends me into a sweat.

These writers are writing short stories for some of the same reasons as those who love the form. Practice. Developing characters. Developing plot. And the joy of actually finishing something. Novelists are also told that if they want to publish a novel, through a publisher or getting an agent to do the work for you, you need to have established credibility as a writer. Write and publish short stories. Submit. Submit. Submit. Learn to handle rejection because it's inevitable.

I would urge any writer with the hopes of writing a novel, to first practice the short story form. Find your own writer's voice, feel that sense of accomplishment when you do the final edit of a story. Find a market. Get rejected a few times. Get the story published. All the while working on more short stories. Never stop writing. That's the key isn't it?

That doesn't mean don't work on the novel, too.

I'm writing a novel. I also write short stories. Sometimes the novel is overwhelming and you need something to fall back on when you just can't deal with your novel characters anymore or you get stuck on a plot point. If I didn't write short stories as well, I would likely stop writing and maybe or maybe not get back to the novel. As in any big task, you sometimes need to step away for a moment to try and regain perspective. Turning to other forms of writing is a great way to do that.

Like stopping to catch your breath during a long hike. Or stopping for lunch or a drink of water.

On a side note...I heard a couple of great pieces of advice last night.

First, when you find that your character is boring or indifferent or disinterested in their surroundings, not engaging with other characters, or always angry or whatever, write then doing something they really care about or engaging with something they really care about.

I'm not sure if I totally agree with the second point. To have someone looking at your work frequently to keep you on the right track because there's nothing worse than spending a ton of time on a particular scene to make it great and then find that it doesn't even need to be there. While I do think this is great advice, I think it pertains only to later drafts. The first draft is yours and yours alone as you're working through the story and trying to figure it out. But later drafts, absolutely, showing it to people frequently is beneficial.

Writing is not as solitary as many are led to believe.

1 comment:

  1. I like your honesty Robin.
    I have a Hawaiian shirt I wear when writing. I wash it only when the stench begins to burn eyes causing me to squint when I read. I found a small library in the small town where I'm currently residing. When using my manual typewriter I often wear earplugs because the noise of other people irritates the hell out of me. Occasionally someone will walk by to have a peak at the dinosaur smashing the keys, listening for the ring and the zip sounds. I can see the judgment in their eyes when they see my ear plugs. I smile and look down at what I'm doing. Writing is like going to another world for me. I walk beside my characters, I visualize like I'm watching a movie doing my best to write down the details. I talk out loud to myself, moving my arms in motion like I'm trying to place bobby pins in my female characters long black hair. I'm surprised no one's ever called the police, or with a gentle tone, and a kind hand on my shoulder have asked me to leave. I love what I do, I love the fictional world I spend time in accompanied by cups of coffee and chewing chunks of dark chocolate while I ponder. When I speak to anyone about my protagonist and his life story, I speaks as if it's a real story. When I say it's fictional people are surprised. I take it as a compliment.
    My biggest problem however, is one that is as old as time. - "Too much of a good thing can often be unhealthy." :-)


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