Thursday, January 12, 2006

Getting the Itch Again (Somebody Stop Me)

I woke up this morning with the desire to write another short story.

"So what," you say, "Sounds great. Go for it." No, you don’t understand. This is an incredibly bad idea. Why? I suck at writing short stories. Worse, to paraphrase Marlin from Finding Nemo, I think I can do these things, but I just can't.

I imagine myself a fairly competent novelist. Certainly, I've written my share of them. I seem to understand the process of writing a novel at least well enough to get to THE END. Starting a short story seems to be the best I can do. I usually stall out a page or two into the thing.

I suspect the reason I don't finish most of the short stories I've started is because of the way I write. I've written to outlines for my novels, but more often than not I feel my way into the story. I dilly-dally for several pages before I really know what the novel is about -- both in terms of plotting, but, perhaps more importantly, in terms of theme, as well.

This is the stuff I have to know when I start a short story. If I don't know what the theme or the plot (especially the ending) is going to be before I start, there's no way I can wrap the thing up in 5,000 words or less.

5,000 words is nothing to a novelist. That's not usually even my first chapter. I'm just getting revved up in those first thousand words, not even thinking denouement, for god's sake.

Plus, for me, writing a short story ends up being a weird kind of time commitment. It takes me months to write a short story, plus then I figure in critique and revision... and suddenly, four or five months have gone by and I haven't written a damn word on my novel due to the publisher in August, you know?

So, like I said. Stop me. For crap's sake, someone stop me.


tlmorganfield said...

For the longest time, I was afraid of writing short stories. Finishing was a huge problem for me as well. I've written something like 5 or 6 novels and have finished every one, but I used to have a folder on my computer chocked full of three page starts that never went anywhere and about 4 finished stories in all. Even going to Clarion West didn't cure me of this problem, though I managed to finish five stories while I was there. I just avoided shorts all together for several years after that and went back to novel writing. And any suggestion that I should try to write shorts to help me break in made me physically ill. But I suppose a dozen or so rejections from agents on my novel made me reconsider. Yeah, some people publish novels without short fiction credits, but I don't think I'm one of those authors.

Last year I finally conquered that fear of short stories. I completed 8 short fiction pieces (2 below 7k, the rest between that and 14k. My goal for this year to write more in the lower end) and have even finished another already this year. What I found helped me was outlining. Something so small hardly seems to need an outline, but knowing the path ahead of time made it a thousand times easier to get to the end. I never used outlines when writing novels strangely enough, but early on I found them very useful for the shorts (I can do them now without outlines, though if I find myself getting stuck, I'll stop and outline, to get back on track).

Of course, I'm not a paid novelist with a deadline to meet:). At the very least, maybe you should jot down your idea and the major plot points and then put it aside until you get to a point where you can work on it. After all, short fiction sales are a very good way to keep your alter ego from vanishing for good, since magazines are more concerned about how good your story is, not how well the last one sold.

Zoe said...

I have trouble writing short stories too. It's hard for me to come up with a plot that will fit into a short story. Most of the time, as soon as I start spinning the idea around in my head, it turns into a novel. Or a series. I seem to be getting better at them, though.