I’ve been writing short stories again recently – it’s something I come back to every now and again and always with pleasure and surprise. I thought I’d share a little of what I get out of it, as opposed to writing a novel.
One thing I suppose is that it brings as near as you can get in writing to instant gratification. A story is short enough so that you can pretty much do a first draft of the thing in one, or perhaps two sittings. After which you have the whole story ready, admittedly in a very rough form.
They are also compact enough so you can physically see the whole thing in front of you – spread the pages out on the kitchen table if you want – the start through to the ending.
I tend to get to the point of having this first draft printed out in front of me, then scribble rewrites all over it so you can hardly see the original type. If you are learning to write then short stories are a great way to practice rewriting which is a key and crucial element in the writing process.
A story for me captures a moment in time and place, it also has to tell you something about the person or people in the story – and it has to take the reader on a journey from the start to the finish. Often the characters in the story change or grow too during its course, though the business of character development is obviously less of an issue in a story a couple of thousand words long than it is an 80,000 word novel.
Another thing I like about short stories is that they can be a laboratory in which to experiment. It’s perhaps not something I am using them for right now, as my aim is to add to a cohesive collection of stories with a similar theme and feel which I would eventually hope to see published. But in the past I have used them a lot for that. While you are growing and developing as a writer (and I sincerely hope I am still doing this) you need to try out various types of work.
You might want to write a little science-fiction say or try a ghost story. These genres may not turn out to be your life’s work but with short stories that doesn’t matter – you can give them a go.
In the past I’ve also used the story form to explore my interest in different writing styles. I remember doing a story in the style of Jorge Louis Borges for example, as I was very taken with his work at the time. In fact it won a competition for surrealist style writing. It’s not something I’ve pursued since but it was great to give I a go, and to get it out of my system if you like.
I would compare experimenting in this way to the way fine art students can be found sitting in front of old masters in galleries copying the brush strokes.
A more recent interest I’ve had with my short stories is exploring how they might sit together in a collection. When you go about this you start just compiling a list and you finish wondering how you can make them work together so they become more than the sum of their parts – so the work as a whole takes on a character.
That’s one reason I’ve come back to writing more stories, to try to develop and enhance this collection.
But I would have come back to them eventually anyway because sooner or later I always do. And, in just the same way, I know that the time will come when I will feel the urge to be writing something longer and more complex – something I can’t turn round in just a day or two. Then I’ll start on another novel.
Do you write short stories and what draws to the form? Let me know in the comments!
Don’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.