Monday, April 27, 2015

Short Story Writing - for fun!

by Catriona McKeown
I love writing short stories.
I love novel writing too, the way you can explore characters and situations and see the character change in a way that readers will be able to relate to. But short story writing and novel writing are two very different sorts of writing. Sometimes, I need to walk away from the drawing-blood-from-my-fingertips, oozing-sweat-from-my-brain that novel writing is and just have some fun with my technological pen.
Short story writing lets me do that.
In short story writing, I can just grab any character that sways, staggers or strolls into my imagination. I name them, work out their age, what their occupation is or was, and a relationship status. Then I throw them into a situation to see what they do. Most often, I don't even know what that situation is. I just put the character somewhere - on a beach, in a car, standing at a front door - and describe how they're feeling. I give them an emotion and describe how their body is reacting to that emotion; which body parts are they aware of? What are they seeing? Smelling? Hearing? Tasting? I love contemplating their feet or their hands - how these body parts feel in a character. Revealing some of a character's senses is a great aid for the reader to emotionally engage with the character and understand them.
Then I have my character meet someone and the story flows from there.
Usually, my character has an obvious, small dilemma, but underpinning it is a larger issue they are unaware they need to move on from. In my short story Remembering Rosemary Carter, Rosemary suffers from short term memory loss and needs to discover where she is and why. But running through the story is the importance of forgiveness in families. Another story I am finishing at the moment is about a retired doctor who has had a panic attack after proposing to the woman he loves - but underpinning it is the issue that he hasn't fully recovered from the death of his first wife and daughter.
Short stories are glimpses into a character's life. It may only be ten minutes of their day, but it is a pivotal ten minutes. These stories are such a challenge! Especially if you're writing for a competition that is imposing a word limit. To have a character that is engaging from the beginning, to pull the reader in and make them care about him/her, place them into a situation that is going to impact the character and have them come out different in the end - all within 1500 words? Who wouldn't love it!
What about you? Do you love writing short stories, or do you do something altogether different to take a break?

13 comments:

  1. Thanks, Catriona. I love your description of the process you go through in creating your short stories--a true glimpse into a writer's mind! To some degree at least, I think writing my weekly blog works for me rather like your short stories work for you. A few years ago, while waiting for a publisher for my first two novels, I set my mind to creating short stories simply to fine hone my writing skills and discipline myself to write only 1500 or 2000 words or whatever. I think this helped me cut out extraneous words and really think about what I wanted to achieve with my story, which then helped me with my subsequent novels.

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    1. It must take great discipline to write a blog, Jo-Anne.
      I am similar to you, in that after I had my first novel appraised I realised I needed to hone my writing and make it tighter. Writing short stories was part of the process for me, and it was then that I remembered how much I love this kind of writing.
      Thanks for commenting and all the best with your endeavours.

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  2. Hi Cate, thanks for sharing your process in writing short stories. This last year I've written a few and am enjoying the process though I've decided that I'm better at either writing flash fiction (a single scene, 1000 words) or 8000 words. Writing novels comes more naturally. But it is a great way of honing my craft and results in a finished work much quicker. Thanks for your post.

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    1. Is 8000 words a Novella, Jeanette, or is it still a short story? It's amazing how we all have different styles and skills, even in our writing. Thanks for commenting; all the best with both your long, and short, stories.

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    2. Hi Cate - I think 15,000 or even 20,000 words is considered the minimum for a novella (up to 35,000-40,000). Sci-Fi/Fantasy short story comps often have a maximum of 10,000. And yes, it's good we are all different. It makes life interesting - in a good way :)

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  3. Thanks Cate. I enjoy writing short stories too. I am mainly a non fiction writer so writing short stories is different to what I mostly do. I have it on the cards to write a book of modern day parables (through short stories) and perhaps this is the year I should embark on it. Many thanks for your interesting post.

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    1. Thank you Anusha. That sounds like a terrific goal! All the best with it.

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  4. Thanks for sharing that Cate. You've given some great suggestions for getting the short story juices percolating. I've had a few short stories published and I enjoy writing them, but they take a lot of effort. Writing a 2000-word short story is much more difficult than writing 2000 words of your novel because you have to have a whole story arc happening in a small space and have it work. When I first started out, I had way too many ideas and eventually realised I was thinking of novella-length works rather than short stories. Getting the scope right is important. As Jo said, it's a great skill to help with other types of writing. Just because you have more words in a novel, it doesn't mean you can rave on :) Good luck with your short stories.

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    1. Very much so, Nola! I find short story writing great for forcing me to tighten my writing - which then in turn teaches me how to tighten my writing in my novels. So it's great practise for me.

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  5. I've never tried writing a short story, Cate. I like the way you approach it. That is placing your characters in certain situations and then getting right to the point you want to make.
    I usually write long stories then proceed to cut them down to size. It's similar to the way some writers get down all their protagonists' characteristics even before writing a novel. I reckon you could even turn your stories into full length novels. Then again you mightn't enjoy doing that. We sure are all different the way we tackle our craft!

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  6. A fun blog, thanks Cate! I love the challenge of short story versus novels writing. It really does force you to tighten, prune and adopt a more succinct and powerfully engaging mode of writing. Definitely a great skill to take into novel writing! Love the details of your approach. You've got me all enthusiastic now to tap out some thoughts! (Just need to find some time to go with it! LOL!)

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Adele. Finding time is the enemy, hey! All the best with your writing - if you get to write that short story, I'd love to read it.

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