It is with great pleasure I welcome short story writer (and novel dabbler) Megan Manzano to the blog today. She's talking about a topic I, along with a fair number of writers, struggle with, and that's writing short stories.
Short stories seem to have two distinct views in the writing community. There are authors who write and enjoy them and authors who ask, “How do you write a short story? How does it not become a book?”
I’ve gotten the latter question often since I predominantly write short stories and have several of them published in literary magazines. Short stories come easily to me. They start off as a word or line in my head and branch out to a larger idea. Often, the idea is not big enough to be a book or would zap all my energy if I tried to make it into one. The benefit of using an idea to create a short story is I get to explore the characters, the world, and the meat of the plot without having to build up to it.
One of the biggest pieces of advice I’ve gotten as a writer is “start your story in the middle”. Don’t lead your reader through an abundance of backstory and miscellaneous details. Throw them into an event and let the world fill itself out. For books, this can take hundreds of pages, even several books. Short stories are like a snapshot. You have what you want yourself and others to remember and then it’s over.
There is a freedom that comes from writing short stories. I don’t necessarily have to explain everything. I can choose what I want to reveal as long as it guides the story forward and my reader is still able to understand the conflict and the motivations of my characters. It does get tricky when I can’t figure out exactly how to end a story or I ask myself if I’ve done the story justice. A lot of my experience with short stories has come from practice and little to no planning.
Yes, I must make a confession: I don’t outline or plan. I am pantser if you will. Laying out details for my story hinders my creative process. I like the unpredictability of not knowing if my initial idea will remain the same or change. I like being surprised. I like not placing a limit on the words I’m putting on the page. I do tend to have a conclusion I want to reach in my head. It usually pops up when I begin writing, but I don’t question how I get there unless it makes absolutely no sense when I read it over.
Another habit I have is I write short stories in one sitting. This does not apply to all of my short stories, but it applies to ninety percent of them. Short story ideas are fleeting in my head. If I don’t get them on paper, they won’t be as strong the next day or the day after. They won’t have the same muse pushing them forward, weaving my words together without effort. It makes for some intense pressure as a writer, but it also presents a fun challenge. Can I finish a story I haven’t planned, that possibly has an ending, and no idea how I’m going to get there? Yes, most of the time. There are always instances where these ideas get left in my work in progress folder with the hope I return to them in the future.
Writing my first book – the novels I wrote as a child filled of ghosts and time travel and talking babies don’t count – has presented its challenges. In the beginning, I had the same muse I get for short stories. I was finishing whole chapters in a day. Now, that initial spark has died. I love my book and my characters, but the writing process is much slower. I write in bits and pieces or it will be a few days or weeks until I finish a chapter in a single sitting. This is when I realized what kind of writer I am, the contrast between how I write short stories and how I write my book. I think writers tend to have the opposite problem, but nonetheless, I plan on finishing my book. Most of it is done and then I will go through the crazy process known as editing. My journey just takes a bit longer than it would for others.
I do recommend writing short stories even if they don’t go anywhere or get published. They can be a great tool to explore your style as a writer as well as test yourself on how you can cut details and extrapolate plot. They may not be for everyone, but I wouldn’t rule it out until you give a shot. You may realize you like them or if you are the type of author that likes writing a book, you may find a foundation for a new one.
Megan Manzano graduated college with a Bachelor's degree in English. She has been published in several magazines: Maudlin House, Firefly Magazine, Fantastia Divinity Magazine, and Twisted Sister Lit. Her favorite activities include reading, blogging, finding ways to travel, editing, and expressing her imagination through writing. It is also worth noting she has an unhealthy obsession with dogs and wants to have many in her future.
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