What is the big deal about short stories? Why have them? Why do readers prefer the short story over a full blown novel? First, let me say that novel length manuscripts have NOT gone by the wayside. There are still vast numbers of people (myself included) who read the thousands of wonderful books out there. Yet, short stories are on the rise. More and more readers are turning to the short story. What is different today, then let’s say 40 years ago? Are there reasons the short story is more popular to day?
Short Attention Spans & Time
It has been said that our attention spans are shrinking, therefore our desire to sit a read a four hundred page novel has also shrunk. One study suggested that our attention span has dropped to a mere 8 seconds. The statistics were published in Time magazine, the Telegraph, the Guardian, USA Today, the New York Times and the National Post. Since 2015, that theory has been debunked.
Another angle is we just have too many choices (think mega-stores like Costco or Sam’s Club, or coffee shops like Starbucks). When I walk into a coffee shop with a menu the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica I can’t make a clear decision so I order coffee and leave. Quick, easy, and black.
Time, for many people, is a huge culprit. Busy lives can drain away minutes, hours, days, and weeks before we realize that the time has gone by. Careers and family obligations alone can drain the day away. When there is only twenty minutes left for reading, a novel is challenging to get through.
Whatever the reasons, a short story can fill the tiny gaps in our day. They are usually quick reads that are satisfying, and packed with meaning. Short story writers learn early on how to keep a tale riding on a tight rope. They are a trapeze artist walking a narrow path with the reader, their audience, holding their collective breath. When the artist reaches that last sentence the audience erupts with applause.
There is always the quick gratification that is gotten through a short story. A reader can sit and finish a full bodied story in about an hour.
Marion, Nelson, and Oscar were behind. Finals already started, and they had nearly a month of work to catch up on. Keeping up was a challenge at times, but they were lucky that most of their professors were understanding.
Oscar stared out the dorm window. He watched a few students crossing the quad with coats pulled tight against the blizzard conditions. Campus should have been shut down for classes but this campus never closed.
“It’s a bummer classes weren’t cancelled. It’s a bomb cyclone and a blizzard. They could at least give us a break.” Marion was the youngest in the crew. Her straw hair frizzed out in every direction.
“That would be pretty
cool.” Nelson, was a brainiac only because he had a photographic memory. He
complained it was a burden, but Marion and Oscar had a hard time feeling sorry
Simultaneously, three watches pinged incessantly and furiously they started thumb punching on their cell phones. “The other side of campus. Let’s rock.” Oscar gave a confirming nod to the other two just before they blinked out.
The three reappeared behind the chemistry building. Crouching low they scanned for any threats. The wind ripped through their clothing and snow pummeled into every crevice.
“See anything?” Oscar
shouted over the storm’s pandemonium. If anyone replied, it was ripped away by
A pop. Then another.
Oscar wheeled back
around to see Professor Bane standing over two forms lying in the snow.
“Next time, you might
want to materialize somewhere less in the open. Now, get back to the dorms. The
weather is quite unpleasant.” Professor Bane turned and blinked out before he
took a step away.
Oscar transported warm gear to the so none of them froze to death, but he still didn’t know how to transport anyone other than himself. He spent the next two hours dragging his crew back to the dorm room.
It took another hour for
the two to wake up. “What happened?” Marion was the first to wake, but they
waited for Nelson. The three settled, wrapped in thermal blankets drinking tea.
“Finals week happened. We just flunked the first part of Professor Bane’s test.” The three groaned in unison. Oscar continued, “I’m not sure how, but we have to get through these finals. My Dad will kill me if I flunk out again.”
Professor Bane went directly to the Director’s office as requested. Director Thorne sat behind an ostentatious mahogany desk looking up when Bane entered.
“How did they do?”
“Fastest reaction time on record, but they materialized in the open. They are going to be good though. I could feel their power surge when the signals came in and when they materialized. You were wise to choose them as recruits.”
Thorne leaned back in his chair, “Yes. I am looking forward to seeing how they progress.” A slow grin grew across his face, “I must say, tonight was a bit on the cruel side, don’t you think?”
Raising his shoulder in a shrug, Bane replied, “Maybe. But the storm will make sure Oscar knows how to transport others by the time they are tested again. Frost bite is a great motivator.”
This is a scene I wrote ages ago when I was thinking of a book about a school for gifted students. The school was going to be a college of sorts, but I never got a clear path as to where the story would go. Then a slew of books came out centered on schools like this and I decided to shelve it. I came across it last week and thought I would share it. I changed it up a little bit to fit my need to get caught up in A to Z. Life likes to rear up and grab me every once in awhile and I have to step away from my desk.
My inspiration for this post was: to catch up on A to Z in one post (sorry for the little bit of cheating) and for the letters……….
Pretty easy definition until those last three words, “voiceless velar plosive.” My knee jerk reaction was, “Is this some kind of new storm that replaces the Bomb Cyclone? Or, some other kind of explosive that has a silent EX at the beginning?
If you are anything like me, you may have already clicked the link above (or you’re a linguist and already know what it is). So, down the rabbit hole of links I went. If you haven’t clicked on the voiceless link above you should.
This is where things started to get tricky. In my writing I like to come up with different ways to show my readers how my character feels without actually saying the word, like sad, happy, depressed, or bored. It is a real challenge. When I read the definition of voiceless velar plosive I thanked the writing forces I did not have to come up with that definition. My eyes started to glaze over.
The next hop down this rabbit hole was, “…and the equivalent X-SAMPA symbol is k . X-SAMPA peaked my curiosity, and another click. There you will find, ” The Extended Speech Assessment Methods Phonetic Alphabet (X-SAMPA.” (Aren’t you glad you came along for this ride?) I have been sitting here, re-reading what X-SAMPA is, only to scratch my head wondering if they were talking about a computer language rather than language.
Scrolling down there is a chart of the X-SAMPA, IPA, and IPA Image for Lower Case Symbols (aren’t they letters?). Keep scrolling and you will find charts for Capital Symbols (upper case in my dictionary), Other Symbols, Diacritics, and so on. Reaching the bottom of the page I lost it. Go ahead…I dare you to make heads or tails of that last diagram.
Feeling like Alice in a linguistic Wonderland I had to bail out. I think I’ll stick with just writing the words and leave the reason for their existence to someone else. With that, I will enjoy each letter for what they are; twenty six opportunities to write words that start with the letter K.
When I first delved into this writing adventure I thought it would be easy. In some respects it has been, but in others it has been a slog. My journey through writing began about six years ago when I attended the Pikes Peak Writers Conference that is held annually in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Since then, I have been blown from one book to another.
After that initial conference I was jazzed. I wasn’t necessarily looking to write “the next great American novel”, but I was excited to write the book I always wanted to read. Six years later, and five attempts later, I am still working to find my groove.
I did edit my great grandfather’s memoir on his railroading days at the turn of the 20th century. It was published privately with only three copies in existence. What did I learn? Even with something already written out it is a long road to publication. What was the worst mistake? I misspelled my grandfather’s name on the cover and on the title page.
I am working on several other books that, one day, will be completed. As I’m writing this post, I think of the first two attempts as stretching my legs. I got the feel for writing, editing, critiqueing, querying, re-writing, and re-doing everything. I discovered what I liked about the stories and what I hated about them, then drew from those lessons to start a third book.
The book I’m working on now has been my favorite. It is fun, light, and airy. I am learning that as an author I am better at seeing the lighter side of life which helps me to stay upbeat when I step back into my regular life. I am excited that this third attempt is also seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Writing is not easy. If you are just starting out on this journey, I would say to you…try everything. In order to find your way through this journey you need to follow paths that might take you to dead ends, swamps, or it could very well take you to paradise. Most of all, enjoy the journey.
I have been asked where I get my ideas for my short stories. Recently, because of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, my ideas have stemmed from the letter of the day. I like playing with names and discovering odd or silly sounding names like Greta Grimmward and Horatio Horrocrux. I pulled the character’s first names off of baby name lists, and the last names are twisted versions found off of surname lists. Then, I write the story based on who I think the characters are because of their name.
Another place to find inspiration are the many websites that specialize in writing prompts or theme generators. One of my favorite sites is Writing Exercises and Prompts. This site has a plot generator, random first lines, random subject generator, etc. I have had some great ideas blossom here.
Chuck Wedig’s blog is another place I have found ideas. Every once in awhile he hosts a short story writing challenge with prompts posted by his readers. I picked up on one prompt that turned into a short story about a guy named Bob. It was a fun way to flex writing muscles that I didn’t know I had. If you visit his blog, be aware that he does not soften the edges. He freely uses every four letter cuss word there is, plus a few shorter ones too.
What are some other ways to find inspiration? Just look behind you. Where have you been? What have you experienced? Family members can provide a wealth of story material. Got a crazy uncle? What about Great Grandpa? Was he a horse thief? Have you ever gone into Walmart to see who’s shopping there? You can find such a huge variety of characters in a Walmart.
Where do you find your ideas and inspiration? Share them in the comments. I love finding new ways to get inspired. Like this post which was inspired by the letter…..
In a writer’s life there is failure. It’s real. It happens. Take yesterday for example. During the month of April I am participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge where each day of the month (except Sundays) we have a post dedicated to the letters in the alphabet. Yesterday was the Letter – E. Did you see my post from yesterday (which I actually posted today)?
Error-404 was all I could manage. It was a very bad day in my neighborhood. I ran myself into a sh*t storm of stress. If things had gone better I might have actually gotten my Error-404 posted before this morning. Well, I didn’t. So…failure happened.
Today I am up and getting some attention paid to the Letter F. Failure Happens. If you haven’t experienced very much of it in your writing so far then either you are an amazing writer (NICE!!) or you haven’t stuck your neck out far enough. If you fall into the latter category, then you should know what failure feels like. Not so warm and fuzzy.
If it is OK with you I would like to re-name failure. Let’s make it, Challenge, Lesson, or anything besides failure. When that reject letter comes in the mail, or you miss a post you were determined to get done, or you can’t get a single word onto a page, then accept what happened, learn from it, and more on.
Someone once told me to be like a horse when I am faced with a challenge. Horses are amazingly smart creatures. They don’t get hung up on things that didn’t work out. If a horse is munching along, eating their grass, then bumps into an obstacle, they see what’s in they way, fix it, then go around and keep eating grass.
When faced with any obstacle in any aspect of life, be the horse. See what happened, make adjustments, move past the problem, and keep eating grass.
You have decided to write a short story. Congratulations! Short stories can be great fun to write. They will also make you go bald from pulling your hair out. I’m here today to help you keep a full head of hair while diving into your story.
It is Short
The first thing to keep in mind when writing a short story is pretty obvious, but I will say it anyway. Short stories are…well…short. They can range anywhere from 1,500 words to 30,000. More than that and it falls into the realm of a novella. Personally, I prefer stories that are less than 20,000. I like to read shorts in one sitting, and anything longer seems a little too long for me.
It’s a Mini-Novel
Second thing to keep in mind is that a short story is almost a mini-novel. I want to emphasis the word almost. It is a mis-conception to think that a short story is written just like a novel because there are a lot of things a novel has that a short story doesn’t.
A novel is more likely to have many characters, places, and multiple story lines. A short story usually has only a few characters, they may visit only a few places, and the threads through the story are limited to one or two. Of course, there is an exception to every rule, butin general this is how a short story plays out.
It is like a novel in that it has a beginning, middle and end. There are protagonists, antagonists, an inciting incident, a challenge to overcome, and a solution to the problem. All of these are squeezed into a compact story rather than an epic novel adventure.
Give it a Plot
When writing a short story the plot needs to be tight and concise. In short stories, every scene, paragraph, and sentence needs to be spot on with the plot. If you find yourself meandering between the North and South Poles then you might consider a novel instead.
In a short story the hook needs to come early. I would say that if it happens past the first page or two (depending on the story’s length) then you have waited too long. Basically, you want the story to reach out and grab the reader right out from the start. Keep the pace high and tight. You don’t want to lose your reader in long descriptions and arduous scenes. They will get bored and move on.
Drafting Your Story
Everyone has their own way of getting words from their imagination to paper. My version of writing may not fit your’s, but that’s the beauty of writing. You can test different methods and find the one that fits you. My method is a little sloppy, but it works for me. It’s a little like testing to see if spaghetti cooked; I slap it up on the wall to see what sticks.
My mind skips around like a leaf blowing up the street. Sometimes it goes in a straight line, and sometimes it gets caught up in a dust devil. So goes my writing method. I usually don’t have a plan, goal, or idea when I start. I just crank out words that pop into my head and write them. Within about five or ten minutes of pure nonsense a plot forms and the story takes off.
Sometimes I start with finding the main character’s name. I love odd or tongue-twister names. I wrote one story where I found the name Mrs. Quackenbush (this is a real name) and wrote a story around her.
The Hair Pulling
Once you have the bare bones of a draft you can move on to editing, revising, and hair pulling. During this phase you should be trimming the fat. Again, scenes need to be tight and concise. Make every word count.
The most important lesson I learned about writing short stories is to stay calm and don’t fiddle. Frustrations will get you down and kill your creativity. If you get your story pounded out, without editing or second guessing as you write the draft, you will have an easier time in the editing phase.
In the draft you have where the story will start, where it will grow and thrive, then where it will conclude. The editing phase should only be about tweaking what you already have. Don’t fiddle too much. Like the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Lastly, remember writing is something we enjoy doing. If you get too bogged down then write something far out and goofy. Write about how Ford Parker learned to drive, or Kenny Penny’s school days. There is always the story about Harry Baldz and his furry friend Woody.
Today I am combining two blogging challenges into one post. Not only is the A to Z Blogging Challenge just getting started, but I also have the Insecure Writers Support Group that I do on the first Wednesday of the month. Today is A to Z’s letter ‘C’ and ISWG’s monthly post.
As writers we are hit with challenges every time we sit down to write. For me, the challenge comes with writing a multi-scene short story. I tend to get stuck at nearly every new scene which means my writing will slow to a crawl.
When writing a novel it can take me several months to get from one scene to the next. When I write a short story, the problem is the same if I want more than one thing to happen. Unfortunately, my story could take months to write which leads to losing the momentum to writing it.
Did you read yesterday’s story,Beatrix Button’s Clock? I was quite pleased that it only took a couple of hours to write. There is essentially only one scene so I could get it out quickly. I did attempt to add a couple of scenes and every time I did I was bogged down.
If I could use a wish to get through more scenes I would wish for my mind to open up. I would love to have words pour out of my imagination and land on the page and the scenes to grow effortlessly. (For those of you who are writers, there’s no need to comment about how NO scene flows effortlessly. I get it. I know it. But I can dream, right?)
Challenges to write plague all writers whether it is a short story, a novel, poetry, or a letter to Beatrix Button. To rephrase a popular quote by Joshua J. Marine, “Challenges are what makes writing interesting and overcoming them are what makes the story meaningful”.
If you browse around the internet today you will find a plethora of information about short stories. As a matter of fact, if you do a simple Google search, “About Short Stories”, you will end up with about 2,050,000,000 results. Yikes! Reading all that will keep you busy for several lifetimes.
To help you with your research on the subject of short stories, I have listed a number of resources to help you learn whatever you want to learn about short stories. Of course, this is a VERY short list compared to the above search results, but these are some that have a nice bit of information.
The online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica is a one stop shop for nearly everything. The write up on short stories is quite detailed from a simple definition through a thorough look at the history of them.
As the Editor of Writing from the Peak (Pikes Peak Writers blog) I would be remiss not to mention one or two articles from their blog. The first is, “What is a Short Story”. Obviously this is a post about the nuts and bolts of a short story. Another good post is, “Here and Gone in a Flash“. The latter of the two is an introduction to writing flash fiction which is a short story in less than 1,000 words.
READERS–I haven’t forgotten you! Are you looking for some great reads? I can suggest one anthology that I recently finished, “False Faces: Twenty Stories About the Masks We Wear” . This is a new release from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. But, if you would rather find your own, I hopped over to Goodreads to see what they had for their Best Anthologies. They listed 781 books. I’ll leave it to you to sort through that list.
So there you have it. Remember, there are about 2,049,999,992 more results you can browse through.