You want me to write… short?

I was invited to an anthology.

No, that’s not quite right. I looked up from my food, as Jim Curtis said, “You need to write more.”

I cleverly replied, “What?” He looked at me. I looked at him. “Uh… I haven’t gotten the latest chapter to you to beta, but I am working on it…”

“No, I need you to write something 8,000 words.”

“Jim, I haven’t figured out how to write a sequel, and you want me to learn to write a short story?”

“Yep. I’ll shoot you the anthology contract.”

“But… but…” To no avail. Apparently, somebody had decided that the North Texas Writers, Pilots, and Shooter’s Association was going to have an anthology with a story from each of its members, and I had been entirely too interested in the food, and fixing a hot cuppa, to notice this plotting going on around the dinner table and duck out in time.

Fortunately, there’s some good advice buried in the archive here. Read this, and pray for me…

Short Story Workshop Introduction

Part One – Structure

Part Two – Length

Part Three – Plot

Part Four – Some Tools

Part Five – Character

Part Six – Location

Part Seven – Problem

Part Eight – Beginnings and Endings

Part Nine – Revision

Part Ten – Revision, Part Two

Part Eleven – Evaluation

Part Twelve – Now What?

6 comments

  1. Comes to mind that he is probably right.

    You’ve written two excellent novels, so you’ve got down the ability to write a story. Sarah’s oft mentioned short a week endeavor would probably bear dividends for your ability to do sequel, and more controllable stories. Which can probably be translated into novel.

    Good luck and hard work.

  2. I know I need to figure out shorts. The optimist in me says that I should use this time while I’m quarantined to follow Sarah’s little course there and start on the learning process. The realist in me says, “You don’t lack things to do while you’re quarantined. You lack increments of more than two minutes before the quarantined two-year-old starts screaming out of boredom. You can’t write a comment to a blog post, much less learn an entirely new form of writing.”

    (For example, this comment was started at about 10am. It looks like it’ll finally be finished at 10:22.)

    1. Ah, the wonders of 2yos. Mine doesn’t scream, unless I’ve tried to put him down for a nap, but he is still very… insistent. To the point of putting my shoes on my feet when he wants to go outside.

  3. Short stories are very different beasts than novels. Novels need sticky ideas. Short stories need ideas like ball bearings, to avoid dragging in more stuff.

  4. I have written short fiction exclusively for some years now, and I see it in terms of the relationship between the characters and the reader. A novel (or series of novels, since stand-alone books are considered the exception rather than the rule these days) is like a marriage.

    There is an intimacy and sense of shared experience between the characters and the readers. In a long novel you share everything.

    Short fiction, in my opinion, is a goal-focused relationship. The reader is “riding along” with the characters while they do a particular job, and while a lot may get shared, what is important is doing the job, defeating the villain, killing the monster, stealing the treasure–whatever.

    It’s a different focus. The intimacy shared is the sort that strangers on a long bus ride have, or a contractor working on a specific job may develop with the general contractor. There are clear limits, both in terms of duration (after the job is signed off or you reach your destination you won’t be keeping in touch) and in terms of depth.

    That can be a subtle corner to turn, but I think it’s clear from reading classic short fiction how satisfying a deliberately limited relationship can be.

    Bradbury’s characters like the doctor from “The Small Assassin” or the hall of mirrors proprietor from “The Dwarf” or the spaceship captain from “Mars Is Heaven” are compelling largely because we don’t know them outside of the story. We get a glimpse of their lives and then the curtain closes and we are left wondering whatever happened to that guy… (Well, in the last case we know, but you get the idea.)

    Short fiction has neither the room nor the need for deep characterization or character arcs. Even in collections that feature multiple stories about the same character (and I just published one of those) there is a sense of a “professional relationship” between character and reader. Friendly, yes, but not family.

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