May 28, 2010

The importance of the short story

When it comes to writing, I identify more with being a novelist rather than a short story writer. I've written first drafts of about 5 terrible novels since my teens. I mostly wrote for myself so once the first draft was completed I forgot about them until my ex-flatmate handed me a CD-rom of embarrassingly awful prose. I still kept writing though, I've always had some book project on even if I've had a lot of work on the side; I may not have written every day but I still tried to write regularly. 

Six months ago I wanted to take my fiction to another level, to stop being an amateur dabbler and get serious. My main problem was I knew Jack about editing a novel. I invested in books on editing and writing your bestselling novel (yes, shut up) which take up a shelf on my bookshelf. But editing a 75,000 word novel was not a task I relished in and wondered if maybe I should set my standards lower and write something shorter and manageable. I decided that even though I don't see myself as a short story writer it would:

a) Give me something small enough to manage in order to learn how to edit.
b) Learn how to right, how to plot and how to get relevant information in a compact space instead
of waffling on in dragging out prose. 
c) If I can get something published that would give me some valid writing credentials, giving me something 
to work towards that means that my writing has to achieve a certain standard. 

Short story writing is not easy. When I plot, I tend to create really complicated scenarios that need a minimum of 50,000 words to explore them, fitting something down into less than 3000 words was a huge challenge in itself. It requires a great deal of skill to say so much in such little space and hence would go on to make us better writers. I've also noticed the manageability of short stories makes it easier for other people to critique; you'll find far more people want to read 5 pages rather than 300 pages of something you've written. While the craft of the novel and the short story have different challenges, both can teach the writer a lot. I think that it does an aspiring writer the world of good to think small and build up, or run small and big project togethers. I know from short stories alone there has been a vast improvement in my writing. 

1 comment:

Tracie Tsuneya said...

My story's pretty similar; I've always liked to write, but I never really took short stories seriously.
When it comes to writing, there's a lot to learn [if you want to be good].