Short stories, that is.
You see, I sent off my collection of short stories, 25 to be exact, to one of my BFFs the other day. I care very much about her opinion and am so glad she’s agreed to be a beta reader for me. The problem is, since sending, I am incredibly antsy. I’ve had people read a few of my stories, here or there. I’ve had a couple published online. But sending the whole thing together is somehow scarier. What if she hates it? What if the stories just don’t seem cohesive, yet distinctive? What if the theme is a no-go?
I decided to keep busy by writing about short stories. Why I love reading them, and why you should too! And, definitely why I love writing them.
I’ll backtrack a bit here. I started reading short stories before I wrote them. The Interpreter of Maladies is one of my very favorite collections. I recently posted my review of Women With Big Eyes. There’s many more. I’ve read collections, and short stories alone. Here are the reasons why I love reading them, let’s focus on whole collections for the moment:
- They are short. Well, yeah. Duh. Let me elaborate. I work at a library. I’m surrounded by books all the time. There are many a novel I have picked up and felt weighed down (literally)! Some of those bad boys are heavy. And my time these days is precious. I love reading. I do, but I don’t have time to always devote to huge books. I read fast, but I never have more than an hour at a time to read. It’s usually more like 20 minutes. So when I am considering reading a book, I have to decide if I’m going to commit many days of my life to reading just one book. I’m sure there are some short story collections that are large as well, but most of the ones I’ve seen are slim, perfectly sized books for someone lacking tons of time. You say you don’t have time to read? Rent, or buy a short story collection (further shortened to SSC here) and read a couple stories in one sitting!
- They are varied. What I mean by this is exactly that. Generally when you read a novel the author’s tone, style, voice are consistent throughout. Sure, they can have multiple narrators or points-of-view, but overall, I’d say the majority is kind of consistent through the entire story. If you pick up a book of an author whose style you like, or more hopefully love, then yay! If not, you kind of have to push through. If you’re not willing to chance your precious reading time on an unknown author’s novel because you’re for some reason worried you won’t like it, you may just feel more comfortable with an SSC. Because most collections I’ve read vary widely from story to story. There’s always some I love in each collection. A few I really like. Maybe one or two I don’t love. But that’s why I enjoy them so much. I know there will be something in there that is exactly what I’m looking for, without even knowing it.
So, that’s only two reasons, but they are two very good reasons why I love reading SSC. Why do I love writing them? And why should you consider writing some short stories? Never even mind an SSC, why not just start with a single story? Here’s why you should think about it:
- See number one above. They are short! Yes, that’s a wonderful reason to write a short story today. I have written shorts in as little as five minutes. Were they my best work? No. But, they were fun, freeing, and inspired me to either work on something else, or continue working on that story.
- They are fun. I already said that, but it deserves its own number. Short stories are FUN. They are fun to write because some of the pressure is off. There’s limited word count, limited world building, limited background, limited everything. But you shouldn’t feel limited writing them. Let yourself play with the form. Take a chance on less information. Less is more in the case of short stories.
- They push you. I really mean this one. Writing short stories pushes you as a writer. If you’re entering contests you very well might have a word limit. Try coming up with a wonderful idea and then finish the story, realizing you’re 500 words over your 750 word limit. It’s difficult cutting. It is difficult fitting in everything you need to tell a complete story in few words. They push you to know your characters, know your conflict, know your resolution. You don’t have pages and pages and pages to let your reader figure shit out. You have to know it, and they have to know it.
I started writing short stories as an adult student back in 2010 or 2011. I took a creative writing class which I loved, and we had a 25 word flash fiction prompt. That’s right. TWENTY FIVE WORDS! To tell a whole story? Impossible! Well, no. Just really hard. For those who don’t know the difference between Flash Fiction and short stories, flash is just a shorter form. It can be up to about 1,000 words, but most contests I’ve seen top it around 750. Flash happens to be what I enjoy writing most. My shortest flash fiction is about 250 words. Clementine, the story that began as a 25-word-prompt in my writing class, now is around a thousand words. In that case, I wrote the prompt and it was a complete story, but I wanted to lengthen it. I got it to a thousand, then began cutting away at it because I wanted to enter it in a contest with a 750 word limit. But the story lost a lot of its strength that way. That’s one important thing to understand about stories. Not every story can or should be short. Some lose something getting cut down. Not every story works as a novel either. You have to decide what form your story will take. Maybe it’s long. Maybe it’s short. Maybe it is actually a poem.
Try writing a short story this time. Get an idea, find the conflict. Then write. Your story needs an arc just like a novel. And then extra-push yourself. Have someone read it. Enter it into a competition. Just Google “Flash Fiction Contests” and see how many pop up. I placed as a Runner-Up twice in the WOW! Women on Writing contests (see Published Work) They hold it quarterly. There’s so many other options out there as well. Practice. Hone your skill. Read other short stories online, and in books, and in newspapers, and magazines. You may just find your new favorite form to read, and/or write. Here’s a few contests to get you started. But don’t forget about non-contest subm
Tell me below- do you like writing short stories? How about reading them? What’s your favorite resource for short story writers?