Short Stories

I’m posing a question to you this week: what do you think of short stories?

Of course, by posing that question, that means I’m gonna give you my answer, and it’ll make for a good subject because it’s not a simple answer.

Short stories are hard for me, most of the time, though I’ve become much more tolerant of them in that last few years. Maybe because I’ve actually been able to write a few, an ability that mostly eludes me. I get too involved with the story, the ideas, and the characters, to want to give them up in only four thousand words or so. It seems like I’m just getting to know them, really get involved in the story, when it abruptly comes to an end.

And that goes for writing the damn things as much as it does for reading them.

In fact, I’m not sure which is more frustrating.

Thing is, I understand that shorts can help you break into the publishing business. Sell some to regional and/or national magazines—and I include such modern things as ezines in that term—and somebody out there is bound to notice. And even if they don’t, it looks good in that final paragraph of a query letter. If somebody else has already taken a chance on you, that big-name agent/editor you’re trying to hook might be more willing to give you a better than even chance. Publishing credits make you stand out from the crowd.

But they’re so…short.

I think I’ve mentioned this.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve read some short stories I truly enjoyed. And was jealous/envious that Author A could do them so well.

It helped some when I read somewhere that you use ideas to write short stories, while you develop full concepts for novels. Sure, novels usually start with ideas, but you can’t sustain 80,000+ words on a single idea. You have to blow it up into a complete plot, using whatever method you write with.

But short stories are a single idea. You ask yourself “What if…?” and then you answer the question. In as few words as possible. A novel is a long string of what-ifs, whereas a short story is a single idea. You flesh it out and let it stand on its own, without much in the way of a supporting cast. I mean, sure, it can have thousands of characters, even if most of them are background scenery. But it’s a single idea, and you leave it at that.

For me, that can be unsatisfying. And very hard to write. I have more abandoned short stories than I do novels (okay, maybe not, but it’s close).

But getting a couple published sure helped me get noticed, that’s for sure. I came very close to snagging a major agent.

So what do you think? Do you like short stories? Hate them? Somewhere in between? Let me know.

Later,

Gil

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Short Stories

  1. I rarely read short stories. I want to escape into a character, get to know their quirks and fall a bit in love. A short story is like one of those two minute dates. About the time I decide I like the character, the buzzer rings and its time to move on.
    That said, I do occasionally write short stories. Sometimes an idea, a vision, just isn’t a full novel, but the scene demands to be written.

    • That’s pretty much my relationship with short stories. But, if you’ll listen to country music, there are some songs that are just begging to be turned into stories, and I’m working on that, building up a collection I’m titling “Songs of the South.” I don’t have quite enough for a book yet, but I’m getting there.

  2. I come from a different perspective. I like short stories because they’re excellent training for novels. A short story is like a scene . . . a beginning, a middle, and an end. First there is the situation, then comes the action, and finally you have the resolution. If you can’t do it in a short (note I say can’t, NOT don’t like to) then you aren’t ready to go to the longer form.

    • But what about those of us who can write novels, but can’t cut ourselves down to a short story? I’m like Russell: my short stories tend to get longer and longer.

  3. I have noticed my short stories growing longer. My problem is attention span, and I think in today’s fast-pace world many other people have the same problem. They either can’t or won’t devote 12 hours of their precious time to a novel. Short stories are also nice bathroom readers, which is probably where my stuff belongs.

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