Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Writing Short Stories

With several bestselling novels on the shelf, I recently turned my hand to writing short stories. Well, one short story so far to be exact. You wouldn’t think writing a short story would be too tricky for someone used to writing manuscripts of nearly 100,000 words. That was certainly my expectation. Wrong! It’s hard to present a brief snapshot without being superficial or resorting to clich├ęs and it was a sobering reminder that every form of writing demands different skills.
First of all, there's the idea. In a novel, one idea can carry your writing for six months, or even a year, but each short story needs its own new idea.
How do short story writers come up with so many ideas?
Then there's the issue of character. There wasn’t enough time to give much detail, and no space for character development (it was a very short short story), and it’s hard to be unpredictable without leaving an unresolved contradiction.
As in novels, plot was important, but I wasn’t sure how much time I could afford to spend setting the scene, and how short the final twist could be.
But the biggest surprise to me was how the style of my writing changed when I was writing a short story.
If I ever dare show my one short story to anyone, I’ll post it here. I’m not sure if I will, but one thing I am sure of is that I now have even more respect for short story writers than I had before.

12 comments:

Guillaume said...

I actually gave a course on contemporary French short fiction. My first class was about how to define a short story (is it only its lenght? When do we start calling it a novel?). The short story is a very different form than the novel, and not necessarily an easier one.

An interesting paper of Anthony Burgess about it:

http://www.masterbibangers.net/ABC/index.php/online-texts-and-resources/textes-by-ab/121-anthony-burgess-on-the-short-story.html

Leigh Russell said...

Interesting, Guillaume. Thank you for ccommenting. I think the length is part of the definition, but as you say it's a different form to the novel. Length isn't the only difference. I'm going to follow the link you posted right now. Thanks again. Always good to hear from you!

Graham Smith said...

I have written two collections of short stories and flash fiction Leigh and I recently wrote a blog post on where I go tthe inspiration for each of the stories in one of my collections. It can be found at http://grahamsmithwriter.blogspot.com/2012/02/stories-behind-stories.html Perhaps it'll be of some use to you in showing how I got my ideas. One was even a writing exercise I gave myself.

Writing short stories is a great way of learning to write really lean pieces as every words counts at least double when compared to a novel.

Leigh Russell said...

That's so true, Graham. Short stories are almost like poetry, every word is significant. Do you think short stories are more about the writing than the story? Of course there are many brilliant authors who write wonderful prose where every single word counts. And some of us aspire to keep improving.

Guillaume said...

I am not even sure short stories have anything to do with lenght. When does it start being long? Or too long to be short? The problem with such definition is that it is relative and it is almost a negative definition (and one cannot define something by a negation). In French it is called "nouvelle" which I think is more accurate: it is a story centered around a core event. But if I say this, then many lenghty novels are in fact short stories.

Leigh Russell said...

What about the novella, Guillaume? A kind of short novel, around 40,000 words (I'm not sure where I got that word count from, but it sounds about right?) Perhaps we should just call them all stories!

Canary said...

Dear Leigh, delighted to be back on your blog.. I have been writing a bit of poetry too.. would love it if you visit and comment :)

Leigh Russell said...

Will take a look tonight, Canary, and thanks - lovely to hear from you!

Rose said...

Hi Leigh, Sorry I havent been in touch. My life changed recently when I gave mirth to a baby girl, I'm so happy and at the same time feeling very tired and nervous about my new role as a parent. I've been thinking of writin short stories too, and was even thinking of posting a blog of short stories on blogger, and wanted to ask your opinion of them, once I post them. Hope all is well with you xx

Rose said...

does anyone know where i can buy a book that has something on how to write short stories? i have one at home but its about novels. I'll be most grateful for any help. at the moment im just writing short stories for myself.

Rose said...

not sure if my previous comment out, about any advice on writing short stories and where i can buy a book on writing short stories? I only have a book on writing novels. any help will be much appreciated.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Rose - congratulations on the birth of your little girl. Don't be nervous - you'll be great! Do send me the link once you post a story. I'd love to read your work. I hope you can join us at the launch party for Death Bed - please email me for the details. It's in London this time, so might be easy for you go attend? Not sure about books on short story writing but you might contact Helen M Hunt. She has lots of stories published and runs workshops too - and she's lovely! Check out her blog.