Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Writing Short Stories

Sometimes I find myself questioning why I bother writing short stories when I see myself as more of an aspiring novel writer. The answer to that question is a simple one: I'm afraid.

I'm not scared of the time required to write a novel. I'm not scared of the words or even of my sustainable commitment level. Mostly I'm afraid that I just don't have the experience to pull it all together at the quality level I've come to expect from my writing. To gain that experience I've set upon the task of writing short stories that are more than just tales of going from one place to another and dealing with difficulties along the way. I have tried to write stories that say something without preaching, that show the subtle lessons of life that are there for the taking.

I've always been a fan of, and infatuated with, the idea of symbolism. Even as a child, upon first learning the word, I thought it was interesting that you might say one thing but reveal much more somehow. Of course, my first attempts at symbolism were quite unsophisticated. I am actually quite pleased with my ability to write stories that mean something more than what they are at face value. In that, I would suppose I've gotten better at symbolism over the years. But there are many other lessons to learn.

I used to have a very large fear of dialogue. How much was too little? When did you have too much? How much of the story could be told through conversations and how much must remain in the realm of narration? How many different ways did "he said" have to be used to provide the necessary variety? I'm proud to say that these questions no longer stop me from writing where I once was mortified. By writing shorter stories I can experiment and hone in on what works and what doesn't.

I've also learned a great deal about pacing and story conclusion through writing short stories. I know there is still much more to learn, and I also realize that this is all just a precursor to the even greater lessons associated with novel writing, but I am happy with my progress so far. For now I have decided to enter a few writing contests and I will likely start pressing for publication in literary markets in the coming months. I can only hope that with these efforts will come additional credentials to add to my resume and that these credentials may help me sell my first novel.

I suppose the only unfortunate side effect of how much I think about writing is how much I analyze the writing of the books I read. This habit of critical reading, however, has increased my ability to find a lot of the problems I may otherwise miss within my own writing. How is that bad on any level? Well, for one it can be difficult to appreciate a story for what it is rather than for the writing itself, but I suppose if it makes me a better writer I'll just have to take it. And as long as there are people who enjoy my short stories, I'll continue to try to share them.

Creative Writing Prompt:


Jim Murdoch said...

I'm not so I know what to say here. I never started writing short stories until I hit writer's block during my third novel. Before that it had been nothing but poetry. I think you can over-prepare for things. Writing a novel is like swimming. You don't learn how to swim in a classroom. There is a school of thought you should just jump in the deep end and sink or swim. I never started out to write a novel. I think if I had I might never have started. I just wrote and ended up with a novel. I mean what's a novel but a story that got out of hand?

Unknown said...

I get what you're saying, Jim. I don't think I'm opting to write short stories because I'm avoiding the task of writing a novel. It's just that with each short story I write I can see where my writing is improving. I like that feeling.
I understand the benefit of the rewrite process, but I think I might get bored rewriting the same chapter over a few times before I got the dialogue the way I want it.
At this point it's easy to learn some of the simple things in small measure. For me anyway. :)

As always, thanks for stopping by. I always appreciate your insight!

Anonymous said...

It takes a special mind to write fiction. I know that I simply do not have the passion for it, though I love to write. This is why I have settled on non fiction. It gives me the chance to practice my passions and deal with the limitations of my patience.

Catherine @ Sharp Words said...

It sounds a bit like you're overanalyzing your work, Brady. Stop it! Seriously, stop it...

Just pick a topic and write, be it a short story or part of a novel. Put in as little or as much dialog as you like, develop whatever themes attract you... Novels aren't written to conform to a list. Each writer has their own style and methods.

And even if ultimately you don't think it's something that is publishable or even something that can be edited to be publishable, it doesn't matter. Breaking the barrier of your inhibitions is the important thing.

Of course, if you're happy writing short stories (a form that I'm utterly hopeless in) then why not stick with what you're good at? :)

Jena Isle said...

I always liked your short stories Brady. Yes, I've noticed that there are certain symbolisms that go with them. i.e. "The Boy in the window".

You have a beautiful way with words. You can be wordy when you want to and you can be brief too at times. Finding the correct combination would make you a great novelist. I would like to reserve a copy of your soon to be published novel. (smiles)

Our friend Jim here, is a published novelist already. Jim is so generous with his novel, thanks Jim for that.

Keep posting Brady, we will keep coming back for your wonderful, short stories and posts.


I think that it is necessary to practice writing short stories so that you can practice your 'writing muscle'.
The task of writing a book is a huge commitment, and you don't swallow an elephant in one bite - it's little for little.

So basically, it's a good thing that you're writing short stories, not because you're afraid, but because you're exercising for the great marathon: writing a full-length novel.

Hope this makes sense and helps a little...

Natalie Whipple said...

Well, you're more disciplined than I am:) I just jumped right into the novel without a thought to anything else. I'm four novels in, working on number five.

My first was a disaster, of course, but I'm sure it would have been no matter my preparation to be honest. Still didn't know how to carry a story over that many pages.

I've learned a lot, and while you will learn a lot from short stories, be prepared for the clunkiness that will inevitably be your first novel. It's not a bad thing; it's just part of the process.

Have fun when you do jump in:)

Meghna said...

As you said it rightly, people experiment with short stories before writing a novel.

Thank you for sharing this great post.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I love good short stories, there can never be too many of them, so keep writing!

June Saville said...

Hi Brady
Good to have found your blog. I am a keen short story writer myself (see www.journeysincreativewriting.blogsot.com), and have written longer work, including a novella and shortish/long fiction. However, I always come back to the short story.
Short stories are a great discipline for a writer.
They're also a way of presenting life experiences in a way that is palatable in these days of never- enough-time.
I too am a fan of what you call 'symbolism' - I say paint a word picture but leave out some brush strokes so the reader can complete the picture in his/her own way.
That said, I believe that the best way to gain experience of writing a book is to actually do it! We can't be hard on ourselves and expect perfection immediately though.
And there's always a short story or two waiting to be written in between chapters ...
June in Oz (an oldie)