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.
My middle name, if I had one, might be Glum, Morose, or Depressed. If I had my choice though, I’d make it Maudlin. It sounds more like a name rather than a state of mind. I could even change my entire name to something like, Dolorous Maudlin Lacherymose.
I told my psychiatrist that I wanted to change my name but she thought I would only be feeding into the monsters that lived in my head.
I like to feed the monsters. They are my only companions.
Jocund Ebullient Bright could have been my mother’s name. We aren’t sure what happened when she gave birth to me, but it was like night was born from day.
Mother is gone now. Father? I never knew. No sisters. No brothers. My cousins are too afraid of me to come around.
I like the room they gave me. White.
No. Beige trying to be white.
Crazy Cook likes to point the carving knife at us. I like to imagine it across my wrist.
My name is Dolorous Maudlin Lacherymose.
I”m never going home.
*** *** ***
This was my first attempt at this style of writing. The subject is a bit black but it fit the choppiness of what I was going for. I wouldn’t call it poetry. It’s not quite flash fiction nor a short story. What would you call it? Thoughts?
“Why, hello Horatio. Having some trouble?” I leaned against the door frame watching Horatio scramble to reach the blade I put in him. For the first time in a millennial, I am happy. What the heck, it felt good to drive it in to him. What a jerk he’d been all these years. I just wanted him back, but he tripped over himself on a daily basis.
I grabbed my hair. Out of habit I untied and retied the band that held it back. “How does it feel Harry? Do you recognize it?”
He turned on me, “Don’t call me Harry! You know how I feel about that.” Horatio went back to grabbing at his back trying, in vain, to get the knife out. “Am I supposed to know something about the knife? It is in my back. It does hurt. Let me tell you what else I know about you Greta. You’re jealous. You just want what you can’t have. You’ve been a step behind me trying to steal my mist. Every time you’re too slow, and you can’t stand that I’m there first.”
Laughter rippled up from my stomach. Heratio Horrocrux was an idiot. It’s safe to say I never really liked the guy, but like every feeder I did have a sympathetic side. His paranoia was pushing him further and further into the dark places that feeders end up. The deeper he went the further he fell from the tribe and it was time for him to find his way back. My job was to see he came back in the fold and yesterday I finally caught up to him.
“OK. I’ll give you my snarky name calling Horatio, but you need to focus. Stop thrashing around and tell me about the knife.” I moved closer to Horatio. “It was your’s at one time. Have you forgotten? You spoke the first enchantment, and captured the first feeder.”
Horatio froze. Something seemed to wash over him and I hoped it was recognition. He was the first chaser for the tribe, but after a thousand years of huffing the fumes from the humans he forgot his place. He lost his way. Addiction replaced responsibility.
Lunging at me he roared, “No! I won’t go back! I won’t do it!” He turned on his heel and slid through the window. The human stirred. Thank the Tribe he didn’t break the pane in his rush to leave. I followed him knowing he wouldn’t get far. The addict never did. Once the knife finished it’s job, and chemicals were out of his system we could work to bring him back. It took time, but I hoped he would recover. Maybe it would work this time. Maybe.
This ends Part 2 of the Greta Grimmward and Haratio Horrocrux series. Read Part 1 here.
Someone put a knife in my back yesterday and now I’m pissed. I had a list a mile long. Humans to feed on, fear and loathing to relish in, and death to ponder. Now, none of these things will get done. And worst of all? There’s a knife in my backside that I can’t get out.
What was yesterday? Yeah, now I remember – Monday. Mondays are a busy day for me. I relish the ooze that slithers in the ethereal stratum. Especially at first light. Humans hate Mondays. They drag from their beds with a luscious aura of dread. It is candy for me and I freely move from house to house, room to room, bed to bed, inhaling the raw bliss.
I remember most of yesterday with clarity, but toward the fifth or sixth house I felt a tickle. Or was it a niggle? Something was making the hair on my back ripple with static. I should have looked in the dark corners more closely, but this particular Monday was exceptional. My gorging distracted me. A floorboard creaked and a whisper of what I now know to be a blade being unsheathed.
The enchantment embedded in the blade was the crowning blow. The moment it pierced my flesh was the moment my ability to feed stopped. The abrupt cessation ripped through me with pain exploding along every nerve. I felt a raw surge of fire just before I blacked out.
I woke up just a bit ago with my face planted in a pile of dirty clothes. Normally I would have delighted in the sweet perfume that filth exuded, but not today. It was more like the vulgarity I usually felt with joy, happiness, or birth. All pleasures I felt yesterday were gone. I feel empty. Hollow.
Greta Gimmward’s name was all over this. She has been chasing me since…well, I’m not sure when. The first time we met humans they were barely scratching for survival. The fruits of their fear were less sweet than they are today. They existed back then without much regard for life or death.
We have competed for the same human feeding grounds, and I beat her to them nearly every time. At every village and hobble where humans gathered I was there feeding from the initial offgassing pouring off humans as they rise to face each day. It’s what we survive on. Greta Grimmward was always a step behind me. Always just a little too late, a little too distracted.
She warned me many times that she would catch up to me. “You’ll find a knife in your back one day. You’ll see.” I always waved her off like a speck of dust on my shirt sleeve. Then yesterday happened. I think I’m more mad at myself for letting my guard down rather than the fact that Greta managed to get an enchanted knife in my back.
Rubbing against the door frame proved futile in my attempt to remove the knife. It seemed to vanish whenever I tried to rub it off. Any attempts to reach to that one spot that, to all humanoid shaped creatures, impossible. Dancing in circles only made me howl at the sky. Like a scratch in the center of the back. Insanely impossible to reach.
“Why, hello Horatio. Having some trouble?”
This concludes Part 1 of Greta Gimmward. Tune in next time when the story continues with Heratio Horrocrux.
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.
Over the open window the lace drapes fluttered in the breeze like lazy waves caressing a sandy shore. Shadows waltzed across the oak floor boards finding their way up the side of a bed cradling a skeletal figure. Beatrix Button slept for days rarely stirred from her slumber while she kept company with her dreams.
On the wall, across from her bed, is a clock given to her as a wedding gift. Bea, as Beatrix was called by her friends, knew from the first moment she unwrapped the clock that it was special. Although her marriage lasted less than a few hours, the clock stayed with her all of her days.
The rich tick-tocks were healing after Frank died. He did everything he could to please Bea and when she needed her wrap from the car he was only too happy to fetch it for her. He made the mistake of only looking right and not left when he jaywalked across the road in front of the church. Their ten day cruise turned into ten hours praying for a miracle that never came.
Frank’s funeral came and went, and the days turned to months and months to years during which Beatrix spent listening to the gentle tick-tock, tick-tock. Although people found pendulum clocks a bother to wind and keep tuned, she found this one soothing. She guessed it might have been made sometime in the 19th century, but never bothered to find out just as she never discovered who gave her the clock.
Life for Bea was a series of joys wrapped in tragedy. She weathered each storm with the clock as her constant companion. It never wavered in keeping her on schedule to arrive at every celebration of life precisely on time. She said goodbye to her family one at a time as they each moved on to the next plan of existence. Until it was just her left to putter in her garden or dust the empty rooms that surrounded her.
Beatrix Button did not stir when her visitor came gliding across the floor as if riding on the shadows themselves. Impossibly tall with less substance than Beatrix herself, the figure leaned over her and whispered something only Beatrix could hear. Her eyes opened a tiny slit recognizing the stranger from her dreams. Like a ghost she raised her hand and touched the edge of the stranger’s cloak.
The visitor paused for a long heartbeat then stood and drifted toward the door. The clock seemed to wait by the door and it was lifted from its place on the wall the clock fell silent. Beatrix Button’s smile slipped from her lips as she sighed her last breath.
This morning, I sat staring at my computer looking for inspiration. I noticed a bookmark that I saved ages ago. I left it in the nav bar so I could go back and check it out later. Instead, I proceeded to forget about it. Until now.
The book mark is to a plot generating website. It is similar to the game, Mad Libs. With Plot Generator, you put in a bunch of words and it will write a full short story for you. With my need to have some inspiration I plugged in a bunch of words, moods, places, and descriptions then I indicated I wanted a short story. It took a matter of about 5 seconds and VIOLA I had a short story.
Now, mind you, I had no idea what to expect. The words I gave were pretty arbitrary and some did not match up to what they asked for. It was a hodge-podge of gobbely-gook. As a result…this short story is too, but it’s also really funny. It is worth noting that I did not edit, change, reword, or touch this in any way. This is raw and right off the press. So, without further delay, here is an amazing short story.
Kaitlin Manning looked at the heavy cup in her hands and felt depressed.
She walked over to the window and reflected on her homey surroundings. She had always loved small Parker with its quirky, quarrelsome quaint. It was a place that encouraged her tendency to feel depressed.
Then she saw something in the distance, or rather someone. It was the figure of Sam Goodman. Sam was a smart giant with rugged eyes and robust feet.
Kaitlin gulped. She glanced at her own reflection. She was a nasty, moody, cocoa drinker with skinny eyes and large feet. Her friends saw her as a barbecued, bitter bread. Once, she had even helped a shiny puppy cross the road.
But not even a nasty person who had once helped a shiny puppy cross the road, was prepared for what Sam had in store today.
The snow teased like playing dog, making Kaitlin happy.
As Kaitlin stepped outside and Sam came closer, she could see the bitter smile on his face.
Sam gazed with the affection of 9,468 funny flaky fish. He said, in hushed tones, “I love you and I want equality.”
Kaitlin looked back, even more happy and still fingering the heavy cup. “Sam, Is that real leather,” she replied.
They looked at each other with satisfied feelings, like two clumsy, calm cats drinking at a very loyal party, which had rock music playing in the background and two steady uncles swimming to the beat.
Kaitlin regarded Sam’s rugged eyes and robust feet. “I feel the same way!” revealed Kaitlin with a delighted grin.
Sam looked curious, his emotions blushing like a fluffy, fluttering fork.
Then Sam came inside for a nice mug of cocoa.
Praise for Two Steady Uncles Swimming to the Beat
“I feel like I know Kaitlin Manning. In a way, it feels as though I’ve always known her.”- The Daily Tale
“About as enjoyable as being hailed on whilst taking in washing that has been targeted by seagulls with the squits.”
– Enid Kibbler
“Saying the snaw teased like playing dog is just the kind of literary device that makes this brilliant.”
– Hit the Spoof