Writing … In Short

Filed under: Business of Writing May 28, 2011

Lately I’ve found myself drawn to writing short stories. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy writing longer novels ~ I do. They’re just a different sort of animal, is all.

A story usually starts very simply for me ~ a scene, perhaps, or a line of dialogue I hear in my head. My brain is a file cabinet full of these snippets of stories, and sometimes a new tidbit will link up nicely with another I had filed away previously. So the new idea goes into the same file folder as the old one, and something else may come along before I’m ready to write that story, so it too gets added to the file. When I get enough of these ideas linked together, I’m ready to write.

But sometimes the snippet stands on its own. It’s a fleeting moment in time, a throwaway line that would impact readers more if it were presented in a shorter story. These snippets are filed away individually, and when I write them out, it usually comes as a surprise to me. I don’t always sit down in front of the computer with a particular story in mind. If I’m between tales, many times I sit there staring at a blank screen, shuffling through the files in my brain to find one that’s ready to be written.

A lot of readers tell me they like a particular short story of mine and want a sequel, or a longer story with the same characters. The thing is, often there isn’t any more ~ what I wrote was all I had. This isn’t always the case ~ I’ve started short stories and found that, when I reached the end, I hadn’t written the actual scene I wanted to (which is how my Vic and Matt stories began) or that there’s more to the story than what I wrote down (which was true of my Between States series). But the majority of the short stories I write don’t continue in my mind beyond what I’ve committed to paper. They’re a slice of life and, though the characters may go on, I don’t ever plan to revisit them.

Short fiction is fun to write because you really have to hone your craft to say as much as you can in as few pages as possible. Even though a short story may read quickly, it usually takes the author longer than you’d think to get it just right.  The best way to become a great writer is to limit your word count ~ it allows you to cut out extraneous fluff and focus on the heart of the story.



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