jimvanpelt (jimvanpelt) wrote,

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Casting About for Ideas: Writing Short Stories

For the last couple of years, I've been swimming in the novel writing pool, which means my short story production has fallen way off.  This summer, though, I'm back on short story track.

Here's some of the advantages of short story writing over novel writing for me:

  • I like starting a piece.  When I open the blank document, type my name and contact info in the left corner, and then scroll down to the page's middle to type a title, my heart races a little.  Right now, at this point, the story I haven't written yet might be as good as "Fondly Fahrenheit" or "Think Like a Dinosaur," or "The Green Hills of Earth," or "Croatoan," or "Second Person, Present Tense."  Anything is possible!
  • I like the idea that I'm going to finish within a few days, maybe even the first day.  Short story writing feeds the writer's version of ADD that I seem to suffer from.
  • I like getting to lyrical moments.  A lyrical moment is a place where I feel I've earned the right to let my language soar.  I start putting together peculiar similes, odd metaphors, rhythmic anaphoras, synethesias, hyperboles, synecdoches, and a host of other poetic techniques.  I feel like I can get to that moment quicker in a short story.
  • I like messing with the tightly wound connections in a short story.  A phrase that I used in the first paragraph can suddenly become vital by the third page because I've returned to it again.  A toss-off description on page one surprisingly echoes on page seven.  Everything touches everything.  Basically, I like plot daisies.  (novels can have tightly wound connectedness too)
  • I like discovering my true material.  Although I want the story to be wonderful when I start, I start most stories telling myself that the idea is trivial, no more than a flash piece at best, but as I write I find myself wondering why this particular triviality has caught my attention.  Always there is a deeper significance.  A story idea is just as self-revealing as an answer to a free association question, a dream, or a Rorschach blot image.  There's some reason why that idea bubbled up and not a zillion others.
  • I like editing, but it's a lengthy process for me.  I'll go through a story a half a dozen times with a different mental filter each time.  Each pass cleans it a little and makes the entire thing shinier.  I think what's held me up on my novel is that the editing is a frighteningly huge task.  I can tackle 5,000 words, knowing that I'll spend more than a couple of hours, but 100,000 words!?  OMG
  • I like closing in on the end.  Even short pieces I generally don't know exactly how they will end, but somewhere around half to three-quarters of the way through, the ending will focus.  That's a cool feeling!  When I'm writing short stories, I get to have that feeling more often.
  • I like submitting work.  Right now I have six pieces circulating in the publishing world.

So, even though short stories are not financially important, I like doing them.  I'm glad that I've spent the first six weeks of this summer vacation writing them.  I submitted "The Family Rocket," yesterday.  "Mrs. Hatcher's Evaluation" and "The Hareton K-12 County School and Adult Extension" were also finished in the last few weeks.

My wife asked me what I was going to write today.  Honestly, I don't know.  I'm casting about for ideas.  Maybe something trivial to keep my fingers busy until a really good idea comes along.

Tags: writing
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