Crafting Short Stories… or Not

Posted: March 28, 2013 in Writing
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I’ve said this before, but when it comes to discussions of writing as a craft and motivation, the three best people I’ve found in the SF circles are Chuck Wendig, Sam Sykes and Myke Cole. If any one of them has something to say, I’m going to stop and listen. This showed up in my twitter feed while I was getting the kiddo to sleep the other day…

Okay, folks. Have at it. New blog post on why I don’t write short stories (except when I do)…

— Myke Cole (@MykeCole) March 27, 2013


Go ahead and check it out. It’s ok. I’ll wait.

Read it? No? Seriously. Go check it out. Frickin’ wisdom over there.

Ok. Read it finally? At least gonna fake it? Good enough, let’s go.

So Cole put some words so stuff that’s been floating around in my noggin for a while now. I mentioned as much in the comments of his blog, but there was too much trying to get organized all at once to really be the insight I wanted it to be. I had a sleeping baby on my lap and tapping away on the Nook isn’t the best way to post anything of length.

Pretty much, I think I’m going to end up agreeing with everything he’s got to say, but I hope to add to the ideas too. If not, then I’ll fall back to my “Blogging as thinking aloud” because sometimes thinking aloud helps me. Also, from here on out I can’t just go with his last name. It’s kinda weird because the protag of my next project is named Cole. And I can’t go with Myke because even though it’s spelled differently, I can never refer to anyone else with my name. It’s a thing fairly common with people that have common as hell names. So full name it is!

The main point Myke Cole has here is that not all types of writing are created equal. The craft of novels and the craft of short stories are very different beasts. There’s a pacing and flow that you can use with 75k words that you can’t get away with using when you’ve only got 75oo to work with. Even the language you use in a short story is different from the novel. There’s a brevity of thought that you need when there’s a finite word count involved.

I have discovered that my mindset, my skillset, isn’t one designed for brevity. Bet you’d never guess that by reading any of my random tangents in this blog. The first short story I tried to shop around exploded to 11k words. That’s not really a short story anymore. Most of the SFWA pro listed markets want 5k or less now. I distinctly remember my thought process when writing  that story, lamely called “Catalyst of Our Fate” because I suck at titles so usually pull a line from the story. I kept thinking “Oh! I want to know more about that. And now I want to know more about that.” And so on and so on. That’s a lot more kosher when you’re playing with three hundred pages.

I guess this is something I’ve known for a while. Lately, when I do take a stab at a short, the challenge to keep it short has been part of it. I know they’re difficult for me so by taking on the challenge, it’s a way to get better at it. And I think I am getting better at it. I’ve gotten some personalized feedback and more importantly to me, I’m comfortable enough with my writing to actually believe those rejections that say “Cool, but not a good fit for us.” I do tend to write slightly off kilter stuff. The personalized feedback story was about an elf drug dealer and kidney theft. Yeah. Not for everyone. Character’s got a second story now too. No idea what to do with them. Eventually, I think I’ll shake a novel out of them.

Myke Cole makes another good point about the audience of short stories. The short story market sure as hell isn’t what it used to be. And by “used to be,” I mean “way the hell before I was born.” I dabble with it. I dabble with it more now that I have my Nook, which goes back to my whole thing how ereaders are ideal for shorter works. But I stopped to really think about all the short stories I’ve taken the time to read lately. They’re almost always by writers I already know because of their novel work. I didn’t know a thing about Wild Cards until I read Game of Thrones two years ago. I backed a kickstarter called Glitter and Mayhem because of their awesome lineup like Seanan McGuire and Diana Rowland. My Nook has short story compilations from Saladin Ahmed and Tobias Buckell. I still pick up a few off twitter recommendations (Like the epic “Fade to White” by Cat Valente) and I try to seek out the award nominees. But for the most part with any short stories, I read their novels first and sought out the other stuff second.

Clearly the short story first model of getting published has a long history. Ahmed did exactly that. Lots of people did, especially back in the day before the internet opened up a lot more avenues. More and more, I don’t think that’s the path I should be on and I think I am going to shift my focus even more towards the novel end of the spectrum. I’m not giving up. I’m not going to stop writing them all together. It’s more of a focusing on my strengths as a writer rather than only trying to beat the weaknesses into submission. I am going to use my short stories as tools. I’ve talked about using them to take my characters for test runs. Of the three shorts I have in various stages of completion, two are prequels / back story for my next novel and the other is the beginning of an idea I want to bank for a future novel (possibly integrate into an Amity sequel).

So that’s a thousand words of thinking. It’s not another novel, but thinking is important, especially when it clarifies and motivates. I’m going to end by cherry picking a couple quotes out of the other blog post that got me thinking so much.

“That stuff is impor­tant, but it’s the sizzle, not the steak. The steak is writing the best book ever, and nobody likes to focus on that because it’s really really fucking hard.” -Myke Cole

“There is no end run. Want to be a great nov­elist? Write a great novel. It’s as simple as that.” -Myke Cole

  1. Glad to see it resonated.

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