Thursday, August 14, 2014

It's Summer, So Let's Talk Shorts

I've always considered myself more of a novelist than a short story writer, but my current publication record begs to differ. It's not that I don't try to publish my novels, they just take much longer to find a home and/or for me to set aside the time and energy to make a home on my own for them.

So what do I do between putting my novels on the query bus and wistfully waving them goodbye? I write short stories. Yes, I work on editing the several other novels I have at various stages too, but editing a novel takes more time, at least for me, than writing the rough draft, and as I've been harping on for well over a year now, time is something I don't have much of at this particular stage of life.

One acceptance away from crossing into double digits of published shorts, I thought I'd take a little blog time to explore my world of short story writing: Where I started, the process, submitting, and juggling.

Let's start at the start, shall we?

My relationship with short stories began back in third grade with a teacher who picked the shyest kid in the class to ship off to the local college where I had to stand up in front of a room full of other students and tell them a couple sentences about the story I'd written. It was about a dog that got lost. I have no idea what I said about it or if words actually made their way out of my mouth when the microphone ended up in my clammy hands. All I remember is that I was terrified and praying my chaperone parent would not forget me there because the place was huge and crammed with people who were much taller than me.

The next year, I slipped stories to my social studies teacher. She was really nice and didn't ask me to answer questions much in class. The whole talking in public thing was a major issue for me as a kid. She would write notes on the stories and hand them back to me the next day after class. We had a really great non-verbal, written encouragement thing going on. The thoughtful few words she shared and the fact that the teacher from the year before had picked my story above all the others, made me want to keep writing.

Over the next several years, I wrote a few stories. I didn't show them to anyone. Not because I thought they were bad at the time (they are, I kept a few), but because I didn't find the right person to share them with again, someone I felt safe with, who wouldn't go at them with a red pen and tell me they sucked and I should go find something else to do.

It wasn't until my junior year in high school that I took a creative writing class and found another teacher to share my work with. She did go at them with a red pen, but she was encouraging too. There were days I loved her and days I hated her. In between those days, I wrote stories and poems for the student writing journals she put together throughout the year. Seeing my work all typed up and in other people's hands was exhilarating.

With her encouragement, I started working on a short story, that grew into a novella, that eventually, countless drafts, nearly twenty years, and numerous total rewrites later, became my first novel. At this point, I was of the belief that the longer the story, the better. No seriously, my novel draft was 320,000 words. Join me in a headdesk, would you?

After finishing one of those major rewrites, I stumbled across a fanfic site for a TV show I'd loved years before. There, I found a writing community that reminded me of that creative writing class and those teachers that had gently prodded me along. I wrote a fanfic novella. Readers liked it. I decided I'd try writing something short. I hadn't done that since high school and it took me a few drafts to remember how to cram a whole story into a couple thousand words.

The first comment I received on that story was that I'd made the reader cry. And no, not because it was a horrible story, though it may well be, I haven't gone back to read it to find out. Then more comments came in saying similar things. I'd made readers feel the emotions I'd felt when I wove the words together. That was pretty damn awesome. And quick to write, so much more so than the monster novel I'd been working on forever or even the novella I'd slaved over for months. I wanted to do it again.

Then I discovered NaNoWriMo. Novels. In a Month. Holy crap. This could happen? They didn't take years? I had to check this out.

Enter the sparkly distraction chicken. I wrote novels. Four of them. Found a real critique group. Learned what I was writing was not good and how to fix it. Dove into fixing it. Rewrote my first novel yet again, but in 200K less words. Made lots of writer friends all around the world. Yes, I danced the tango with the sparkly chicken of distraction for years. Then a writing prompt jogged my memory about wanting to write a short story. Ooooh yeah. That.

I wrote a short story. It wasn't very good. But I liked it. I pondered the responses from those who didn't like it and those who did, weighing what I liked about the story with the things they suggested needed work. This feedback went into the percolator for a good long while. I had no intention of rewriting that story. It was an exercise in learning to write short again.

When the next prompt grabbed my attention, I was ready. Solitude was born.

5 comments:

  1. Interesting. I wonder how many other writers work on short stories because of a lack of time? That's one of the reasons I like them, too.

    It's great that you had some encouraging people along the way. Hearing that you made someone feel emotions is a great lift for any writer.

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    1. Yes, making people feel is a great..well...feeling. Unless it's that I made them feel angry because I killed a particular young and just blossoming character. On one hand, I felt particularly exhilarated that I'd made readers feel so strongly for this character that they really got angry. On the other, I've been stalled on that story for a few years now because I'm considering keeping him alive just because everyone was so deeply rooting for him.

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  2. Nice to hear a bit of your backstory with writing, I think we all need a teacher like the one who helped you out. Brevity is definitely a fine art with short story writing. Here's to getting your 10th accepted story into print!

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  3. I don't have a particular fondness for short stories. Often, I find them lacking because, really, the author should have spent more time developing the actual story rather than cramming an idea into a word count.
    That said, if I have a story that's short, I won't try to make it longer "just because."

    And I did get your email. I just haven't had time to read the story, yet.

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    1. Having written a lot of shorts, I hate to admit that I'm not an avid fan of reading shorts. That may have something to do with the fact that I've read a few too many that just plain didn't work...or maybe its one of those really subjective market situations.

      No problem. I know you're as crazy busy as I am.

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