Tag Archives: short stories

The Birth of a Story; or How It Feels to Finish Drafting

I am on cloud nine. Want to shout from the rooftops. I just finished a short story that almost killed me to write. Why was this one so hard? I don’t know. Maybe because I had only a vague idea and not enough of a story before I embarked on the writing so it turned out to be an exercise in “pantsing” which I rarely do. (Pantsing is an author euphemism for writing by the seat of your pants. I hate it and rarely do it.) It was also the first time I decided to write a story within guidelines someone else set for me. We all know how I do with rules, right? Plus it’s my first short-story length foray into writing horror. All these things commenced in a perfect storm of really hard months of writing.

Last month I almost threw the whole thing in the trash and never looked back. I had admitted that all I had were a couple of really cool scenes that I’d wanted to write and once they were down on paper there wasn’t enough meat to create a story from them. Luckily I have a fabulous writing group that includes my editor who is phenomenal at developmental editing. Last month they asked me hard questions that I couldn’t answer yet about the story I wanted to tell and set me on the right path to finding the story I had lurking in my brain waiting for me to find it. Neither of those first scenes even made it to the finished draft.

Nights of writer’s block and avoidance that I had to overcome didn’t help get me to the finish line. But I had the willpower to continue in spite of them. There is a submission deadline looming, after all, dangling a carrot called a publishing credential. It helps to hear people who’ve read some of my other work ask when they can read more to keep me going in the dark depths of despair when I don’t think I have an ending I can pull out of my ass. So thank you if you’re one of my vocal fans, it means a lot.

Now to let it sit for a few days, figure out what I can whittle down so it meets the submission criteria and then get it to my editor. It truly takes a village to get to publication but the creative process of getting the first draft down feels much like giving birth to another child. Every time. This one is about a ghost, and a baby, and I don’t have a title yet. Maybe someday the public will read it but today is when I finished the first draft of it.


Why Every Fiction Writer Should Be Writing Short Fiction

I know you. You’re a novelist, an aspiring writer of the next great novel. Forging ahead through the jungle of self-doubt and rejections. I know, because I am just like you. Only I found a shortcut to success in the most unlikely of places: writing short stories.

Short fiction is an amazing avenue—even for those of us novelists who would never dream of writing short stories. Online magazines beg for content. Open calls for anthology submissions abound, hoping to find the next great thing. Many small presses use quarterly anthologies to find new novelists to sign. Flash fiction sites boast daily publishing for readers who want their fiction in tiny snippets. Land any one of these opportunities and that query for your novel just gained legitimacy—the kind that only comes from publishing credentials.

Opportunities aside, the best reason for aspiring writers and seasoned veterans alike is short stories hone your writing craft. Beginning novelists can take years to complete a first draft, then must repeat the process multiple times to polish their skills enough to land a publisher or sell well in today’s indie market. Why not learn all that on a microcosmic scale instead? Take months, not years, to learn the same lessons.

Can you never get from the dreaded middle to a neatly wrapped up ending? Write a short story. Do you struggle with dialogue? Write a short story using only dialogue. Not sure if you can pull off first-person present tense? Try it out on a short story. Do you avoid the overwhelming, often dreaded, prospect of editing your work? Write a short story, then edit multiple times to perfect it. My first published story went through eleven drafts. Imagine the time that would have taken with a novel! But once you’ve acquired these skills in an accelerated way, you can apply the experience gained to your longer fiction.

Veterans can use short fiction to further refine established skills. My editor’s favorite question is this: Does your writing do more than one thing at a time?

For example: The pendant hung from Susan’s neck where it always did. She loved the intricate scrollwork surrounding the pearl in a starburst pattern. She walked down the street, worrying about the events of the morning. Three sentences, thirty-four words.

Instead of separate sentences describing the pendant and the action, an experienced writer will combine the two: Susan eyed the storm clouds, thumbnail caught in the scrollwork of her mother’s starburst pendant like it always did when she was worried. One sentence, twenty-three words.

In that single sentence, we have tone, setting clues, action, and description. Plus, this shorter version shows us a characteristic when she’s worried, instead of breaking the cardinal rule of telling us she’s worried. Writing succinctly will set you apart in the eyes of readers and acquisition editors alike.

When you can write with an economy of words, stripped of the superfluous, your writing at any length will be more compelling. Use these benefits of short fiction, perfecting your own voice in the process, and your fiction writing overall will be improved.