(Shawties–pronounced “Shh-Aw-Tees” and usually referring to something small or short. In this case, Short Stories.)
I learned something about myself recently. Or maybe it was re-remembered. My mind tends to conveniently forget things to make room for all the stories and trivia pouring in. You know, the IMPORTANT things. Ha. Well, I was going back through all my story ideas, trying to decide on a NaNoWriMo project for November. Yes, shocking I know. The Queen of Procrastination is thinking AHEAD? Planning AHEAD?????
*GASPS AND FAINTS*
Shuussshhhhh! Old dogs can learn new tricks!! (Wow I really just called my 31 year old self old =_=)
Or rather, pantsers can be reformed into planners– slowly and painfully with much protestation. Can’t really help it, having a supah organized best friend (love you my darling Owen) and a very pragmatic husband (love you too honey). Things tend to rub off, especially when it comes to my dream of being a famous published author. Gotta be all organized and stuff. So, here I am, browsing my stories and reading summaries and making considerations. Do I write book 2 of my trilogy or refresh myself with something new? Do I edit my first book instead? Do i finally finish my 15 year WIP?
I read and read and read and then out of the blue the oddest thought occurred to me: Every single one of the story ideas I wrote down were meant to be NOVELS.
By definition, a novel is approx. 20,000-90,000 words. Now that’s not really an issue while considering NaNo potential. The point is to write 50,000 words in one month. I’m more than prepared for that. I have ideas for YEARS stored away and I aim to be a fiction novelist anyway. I’ll never want for writing material.
Alright so what’s the problem here? You ask.
The problem is–that’s ALL there is.
Okay to put it bluntly, I have NEVER written a short story before.
I can see your incredulation. I can feel your shock. HOW is it possible to never have written a short story? I, the budding author, the nublet novelist with big dreams? I even have a whole area on my BLOG dedicated to Short Story ideas!
I–I dunno! Honestly! It never interested me I guess. I don’t read them and don’t really know how to write them. All I ever did with the Ipod Shuffle game was to hone my creativity, turning songs into potential stories. I haven’t actually WRITTEN any of them fully. It was just another form of writing that teased the edges of my peripheral, as easy to ignore as the concept of writing Non-fiction or Biographies.
But now I’m thinking that this is a serious problem.
For a budding novelist, the most important thing is to practice writing. PRACTICE! All the published Greats will tell you this and even the not-so-Greats. Practice writing, find your voice, enhance, grow, build. It’s hard to practice building voice when your aim is to ALWAYS write a novel. There are so many other things to worry about that often times, voice gets lost in the shuffle. What better way to practice all that than with a short story?
A short story, by definition is approx. 1000-7000 words. It sounds easy. It LOOKS easy. But experience has taught me that writing is NEVER easy, no matter how small the piece is. Sometimes it’s hard for me to write my BLOG and that’s usually less than 1000 words and about my own life. No fiction there! It’s already happened. How in the HELL am I supposed to fit a COSMIC-sized idea into an ITTY BITTY LIVING SPACE?
I gave this short story idea the *squinty eyes of scrutiny* at first.
Writing a novel requires a lot of components be streettcchheeddd out and pieced together like a puzzle over 50,000+ words. There is a lot of filler and back story, character development, emotional arcs and scene setting. (Aren’t you so PROUD of all these fancy terms I know now?) With a short story though, you have to crumple up that huge ball of ideas into a fist sized baseball of an idea. You literally have to UNLEARN everything you just learned and cut out all the fat you carefully cultivated in your writing style.
UGGGGHHHHHHH. I knew this was bad! I KNEW it was better to ignore these gawd awful minions of evil teasing my writing peripheral! Don’t give me amnesia! I don’t want to forget!
Pages of character back story now become two or three sentences scattered here and there. The entire cast of characters you’ve fleshed out have now been cut down to half a dozen or less. Act I, II and III are suddenly cut from 16 scenes per to about 2. Growth of the main character is limited to a glimpse. Action and disaster slap the reader in the face from the starting gate and every single word has to drive the story forward. Even that moment of indecision for the character where he goes “HUH?” has to be important and relevant.
*takes a shaky breath*
OHMIGOSH. It’s like Novel Boot Camp! Taking our flabby nublet writer selves with our grand ideas and putting us through the editing ringer until what comes out is a straight-backed, on point, clean cut writer–with a distinct voice. YOUR OWN VOICE.
I believe this to be the truth, painful as it is to contemplate.
Still, there are protestations. I totally get that. It never ends does it? As if getting used to the idea of writing and publishing isn’t enough stress…
Now wait a minute! This is your dream! Do the work to get the prize! And besides, its not all bad! In fact, it can be very good. It mirrors the well-known advice that artists should draw from all sorts of genres and creative outlets to inspire their work; that ONLY pulling from their favorite interests will eventually create static, boring pieces. Authors are the same way. ONLY creating and aiming to write 50,000 word novels will get very boring, very fast. Yes, Nora Roberts has like a bajillion romance novels out there but did you know she’s also the crime writer J.D. Robb? Even the Greats get bored! James Patterson writes Junior novels. Sherrilyn Kenyon, paranormal romance queen, also writes as Robin McKinley, a fantasy romance author. And I bet if you googled them enough, any one of these writers will have “short story” works somewhere out there.
Expand your writing repertoire! Write flash fiction, fan fiction, BLOG posts, Ipod Shuffle Stories, Novellas, Poems, haikus! Don’t shy away from something new just because you don’t understand it or haven’t done it before. You could end up really loving short stories and create a whole book full of them. Also, writing this way you could easily explore a new genre unbeknownst to you like horror or erotica and whip out a short story to see if you like it. (Don’t worry, no one has to see if you don’t want them to :D)
Get your feet wet! Holla at those Shawties that might be passing you by! They might be something worth investing in. And of course, anything that helps you practice what you love to do is definitely worth it.
This advice is as much to myself as it is to you my friends. Don’t hem yourself in. Expand! Grow! Go get some Shawties under your writing belt 😉 And on that note, I think I shall resume my Ipod Shuffle Game–but this time aim to WRITE the stories, not just outline them.