2017: Year of the Short Story
Well, for me, at least.
For 2017 I decided to shake up my writing a bit. I’ve been working primarily on two novels for the last 8 years with a smattering of short stories thrown in there. It’s been fun, educational and, at times, trying.
If you’ve spent any time looking into how to get a novel published, especially in the speculative fiction world, you know that once upon a time the path was to write short stories, get published in any number of magazines and eventually work your way to novel-length writing. Now that we’re neck deep in the digital age, things have changed considerably and that path is now but one of many.
But just because the number of paths to get published fork more than something from a Jorge Borges story doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be gained from trodding the original path.
Focusing on one novel or the other for months or years hasn’t translated into publication worthy writing as of yet and there are so many ideas clamoring for space in my mind.
When I get ideas, they tend to spiderweb like a cracked windshield on a subzero morning, spreading and spreading.
Novels have been a good form to weave several ideas together, to develop character arcs and in-depth worlds. These are the things I love about my favorite novels so, of course, that’s what I strive for. But sometimes, some pretty fun ideas just sit there in the corner of my mind collecting dust, casting sullen glances my way.
Sometimes, I just want to take them out and see what they’re about. Hence the short stories.
I saw a TED talk a year or so ago about how limiting our parameters has a way of bringing out art you’d never expect. Short stories are a constraint in and of themselves that force me to whittle a story to its essence. Having a definitive word ceiling goes a long way toward figuring out what’s important in the story.
What I’ve Found
So far, short stories have offered:
- The chance to explore a lot of different ideas and characters, themes and settings, POVs, tenses, and on and on.
- Stronger ability to recognize the good stuff and stay with that, honing it, making it more impactful.
- The chance to understand a concise story arc from start to finish. My criteria for pursuing a short story is that I must know how it ends before I start writing. That’s created a sort of freedom to let ideas stew until they are fully formed (like the biotech in Wick’s pool in Borne).
I’ve written five full short stories so far this year — my process, it’s … not quick — and am pretty pleased with at least three of them.
The short story process has really helped me develop a measure of focus for each story. It also has helped me understand that, sometimes, I need to choose what I want the angle of the story to be and to be okay with that as I work through it.
The hell of it is that at least two of my short stories seem ripe for novel length exploration. I don’t know if it’s the way ideas are fertile like bunnies or that settling on one main story line is such a huge challenge or if novels are just my storytelling medium, but I’m okay with that. Anything that unearths more threads and ideas is fine by me.
That’s a fine question. For me, I’m happy to continue to exercise my complete story muscle, to explore new and varied ideas and to complete projects. For you? Shit, I don’t know. You could do worse than take a crack at short stories. Much, much worse. Hmmm, that sounds like there might be a story in there …