Thursday, December 11, 2014

Short Stories: A Different Beast

It's Karlie here, ready to talk about the pros and cons of short fiction!

Here lately I've been trying my hand at bits of flash fiction and longer short stories - and it's definitely a change. I've always been more inclined to work on longer novels, but the time squeeze is taking a huge toll on me right now - and it probably won't let up anytime soon.

In some ways, writing short stories is definitely harder. There's no room for a lot of character development or backstory, forcing most of the plot to take place "in the moment". So you only have a short amount of time to make the reader care about the characters so he/she will keep reading, and you don't have any time to delay setting up the plot. For someone who normally works with 300 pages at minimum, it's extremely hard to tell a story in just a few thousand words - or less. 

However, it is helping tighten up my writing style. I've learned a lot just over the past month or so, and it's amazingly satisfying to hold a complete story in your hand, even if it's only ten pages long. Also, it's helping round out my portfolio rather nicely. ;) And it's much less daunting to start and finish a short story than a full-length novel. 

What about you guys? 

Caitlin: I would agree short stories are a different beast! I actually took the opposite route that you took, Karlie, and I wrote flash fiction before I got into seriously writing novels. I think it did help me be a much more efficient writer, and, as you say, it doesn't require the patience of novel writing! But, mostly, I just think it's fun. :)

Lisa: I've finished seven novels, but it's only recently that I've considered a short story. Before I wasn't interested because there just didn't seem to be enough space to sink my teeth into character development really well. As you may know by now, I'm a character-first-plot-second sort of gal. But recently I was thinking about this character and her plot synonymously and realized there wasn't enough for a novel. With that decided, I considered writing her story as a short piece.

A lot of authors do like you, Karlie, write shorter fiction after getting a couple of novels under their belt in order to benefit their craft. I agree that it could help tighten an author's writing a lot. But I have the opposite problem. I plan a book that seems like it will take 80,000 words to write and end up with 55,000 words. So...perhaps my writing is a little too tight? I already know one of the problems is that I'm stingy with transitions. I wonder if writing short stories would hinder growth in that area rather than help it.

Dan: Once upon a time, writing and publishing short stories represented the first steps towards writing and publishing a novel. That's changed somewhat now, particularly due to the financial woes and closure of many short story markets. Because of that, and the minimal length, and the lack of an agent-barrier-to-entry, the markets that pay professional rates are extremely competitive. Most take less than 1% of stories submitted. They have that luxury because of the huge supply.

Even though I started out by writing short stories (as do many writers who take a fiction writing class), I still find it harder, in some ways, than writing a novel. It's not just the economy of words required, it's that most of my good ideas are about epic conflicts. I find it challenging to handle these and make them satisfying in a short fiction piece. That said, I find that writing shorter pieces (especially flash fiction) can be a good exercise for honing one's craft. 

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