Monday, April 12, 2010

Short Stories

So recently I've found myself in a bit of an in-between place with writing.  I've sent out the most recent version of True Sight to a handful of people, and I'm in various stages of getting critiques back.  Soon it will be time to do a little more revision there... soon but not quite.  In the meantime I've been trying to juggle some other writing projects.

The priority is my next novel, currently titled Olympus Gate.  I'm only a few chapters in, but I'm really enjoying this project.  I look forward to every moment of this story, not just the big exciting moments.  So O.G. is off to a good start.

But I've been working on some other things as well.  Short stories specifically.  I've heard so many different conflicting views on whether or not it is necessary to publish a few short stories before having any success with a novel.  At this point the best I can deduce is 1) that short stories are great practice (which I have definitely found to be true—that was focus of the first year of the Story Center critique group), and 2) that if I have a good short story idea I should write it and make the most of it, but if I'm just ambivalent I shouldn't try too hard to make something out of nothing.

Well, I haven't had any new short story ideas lately, but I have decided to go back and rewrite three of my best short stories from previous years.  All three were interesting concepts, but technically they needed work.  So far I've completed first drafts of two of the rewrites.  The third is a little more daunting, but I'm still determined.

The tough thing about short stories is that they are really so different from novels.  I have the hardest time coming up with ideas that will fit nicely into a short story; most of the ideas I find exciting are those with plots that are too complex for a few thousand words.  About the only short stories I'm able to write are those with some sort of shock value.

So, to my consternation, most of my best short stories probably fall into the horror category.  I say consternation because I'm really not a big fan of most horror; it affects me so strongly.  I start imagining all manner of things staring at my back and if I turn my head too quickly I see figures of tragic little girls standing in the doorway.  Why would I want to add to a genre that so thoroughly creeps me out?  And yet, this is where I've had the most success.

Really though, it must be possible for me to come up with other kinds of short stories.  They do exist.

Here's today's question then: what short stories have you read and liked?  What do you enjoy reading about in a short story?


  1. Mystery. I like short stories that have a mystery element that comes together at the end. This is true of both actual mysteries, like the Sherlock Holmes type, or science fiction that employs that plot structure, like Asimov's robot stories. I also tend to like fairy tales and parodies.

    But, in general, I write really long, too, so I'm probably not much help here. XD

  2. Audrey! This is Erika! so i wanted to know like what exactly qualifies as a short story? And do you have any recommendations for some? I would like to see if i can try my hand at it? maybe i could get my own ideas on paper starting with a short story. :)
    P.S. if you haven't noticed by now i haven't the greatest punctuation it also scales to grammar and spelling to but I'm not bad at those subjects in school so i definitely think it's something i can fix in school.

  3. Ico: Yeah, I think we're kind of in the same boat. The trouble with mystery is that I want to make it far too convoluted for a short story. The only short stories I ever enjoy reading are the ones with surprise endings. I'm not so good at coming up with *simple* surprises though.

    Erika: Welcome! Thanks for commenting. To answer your questions:

    Short stories are *generally* about two to five thousand words. Some tend to go longer, but word economy is important, so in many cases the shorter the better. (Depends on whether you tend to over-write or under-write. If you are already under-writing don't try to slim down too much!)

    [Novellas are longer, by the way, up to around 40 or 50 thousand words. Longer than that and you've probably got a novel.]

    As for recommendations... I'm so much better with novels than short stories. Which I will be the first to say is probably the reason I have such a hard time writing them. If you'd like to go back and read some of the famous classics I'm sure you could find writers like Poe or O'Henry at the bookstore. For more modern stories there are frequently short story anthologies--you might be able to find the Love is Hell anthology in the bookstore for example. Though they might be more novellas than shorts... Anyway, you can also find some on Look under Stories tab and then browse through whatever you think looks interesting.

    I would very strongly encourage you to start writing your ideas down. I find that the more I write, the more I get new ideas. Or if you're looking for something to jog your thoughts, I had a great creative writing class in college that had some fun assignments I still remember well: 1) write a story with a big reveal at the end, 2) write a story that centers around a particular object, 3) write a story that involves some other form of media within the story (a letter or song for example).

    Like so many things writing improves with practice. But the technical aspects can be learned. Take the classes and be diligent and I think you'll be fine. If you *want* to learn, you can learn.

    Also, because I recommend this book to everyone, The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman is fantastic for learning some ways to improve your writing. A Dash of Style (same author) is great too, particularly if you have trouble with punctuation.

    And now that I've gone and written you a novel in reply I think I shall go whisk myself away.

  4. Lol thanx! i'll keep that in mind :D