I want to eat my stories

It’s not that I’m literally craving some kind of animal to eat, though I’m not a vegetarian. It’s that I want to cut through the fluff of the stories and read or write the important parts as well as I can. I guess that comes back to a problem I’ve had for years now: I can’t manage to write short stories. Oh, I’ve written a few, but they always seem to leave readers going ‘huh’ and asking for clarification. I don’t want to say this is all because I’m too subtle, though that might be part of it. Short stories have certain advantages over novels, and in today’s market with ebooks, they can be very profitable for independent writers. As I see it, the main reasons I can’t ever seem to write a short story are all tied in with my failure to target my writing at the features of shorter fiction.

With that in mind, I’m going to try to go down the line here and think about what aspects of short stories I do poorly. First on the chopping block is the silliest problem.

1. I can’t seem to make my short stories self-contained.
I am bad enough at this with novels–so many of mine seem to demand sequels–but in short stories I want to use a vast world and a multiple character cast, but no, these things are what cause my short stories to always want to become novels. To combat this, I think I can limit myself to one or two named characters, and maybe one additional walk-on. Thing is, this isn’t always enough because of the next and perhaps most major issue I have.

2. I have to narrow the story down to one event.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to write a story with only a few characters, the limitations in locations and events are monstrous. Sure, Earnest Hemingway’s THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME can take place all over an island and on the boat prior to the main character falling overboard, but that story is pretty long, and also very action-oriented. And it’s Hemingway, so there is less description of surroundings than most people would need I think. While I’ve never been a particularly verbose writer, I find it challenging to cut down to that level.

3. I want character
For years now I’ve been practicing how to write compelling characters. It’s not an easy process, but regardless of that, it takes space in the story to make a good character. Short stories don’t tend to be about characters as far as I can tell. I once had a creative writing professor insist that short stories were about characters. I disagreed then, and I disagree now. Partially this is because of Orson Scott Card’s advice that a well-developed character takes roughly 25,000 words of story for most writers. That is hardly short-story material there. Characters tend to be too complex for short fiction, or they tend to be ciphers of little interest to me. But I like writing characters. My best stories come from the characters I wanted to put in them. Short stories take this away from me, though character is still important, I don’t think it can be center stage.

Anyway, this ranty little exposé got written because, in spite of all of the above, I still want to write some short fiction–if only because my novel-writing seems to be getting back on track lately and my ADHD won’t let me just be content to write one thing at a time.


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