I write short stories. Not novels. Short stories.
There is no shame in this. It is a form that even some best-selling novelists dare not attempt. Even though it is no longer possible to make a living writing only short fiction, it is a noble art with a long and storied (heh) history.
Nevertheless, sometimes I feel like I’m in the ghetto of the writing community. When I go to conferences that offer writing workshops, they almost exclusively focus on novel-writing. They offer critiques of your first five chapters or seminars on marketing your novel to an agent. Even amongst fellow writers the first question I’m asked is “What is your book about?”
Short stories are different sorts of birds than novels and should be treated as such. To be sure, there are writing tips and techniques that are universal and can be applied to fiction of any length. However, short stories work in economy and nuance even more so than novels–because they must. Stories must be short bursts of self-contained narrative. Further, the market for short stories (such as it is these days) is different. For one thing, you don’t need an agent to get short stories published. It’s just you against the slush pile.
In many ways short stories are viewed as the work of thwarted novelists. Those that can’t write a novel write short stories. While I don’t believe this is universally true, I have to say that this may be the case for myself. Except for NaNoWriMo, I’ve never really attempted a novel. The enterprise seems too daunting for me. It’s just so big. I’ve always seen myself as a short story writer and novels seem far too ambitious for my fledgling talent.
I’ve written a few stories over the past couple of years and none of them have come close to setting the world on fire. I still think the short story is a fine form, but maybe it’s not for me. Maybe it’s time for me to branch out, get out of my comfort zone and try a novel. Maybe.
Of course, putting my butt in the chair and writing something is my real problem these days. I should probably just do that and let the words take care of themselves.
It’s true, short stories don’t get the same attention as novels. But, they should! To me, short stories are where writers prove themselves. Everything has to fit in a very small box without losing the little details that make for memorable characters, an intriguing atmosphere, and an engaging story. My favorite novelists are usually those who have wandered into the short story realm, i.e. David Foster Wallace, Guy de Maupassant, and Michael Chabon. Can these guys write great novels – yes – but their short stories are masterpieces. If you’re in the ghetto, these writers are right there with you, which means your in good company.
I totally agree…it takes a completely different skill set to create a successful short story than a novel. I think, though, that a lot of people look at being a professional writer and see that novels are where the money is. Nothing wrong with that at all, but it sometimes makes me feel like a bit of a misfit when the assumption is that I’m working on a novel or that I should be.
Thanks so much for popping in!
Didn’t Conan and Elric start out as characters in short stories written for magazines?
This is true. That’s how many of the greats got their start back in the 30s through the 60s. These days the publishing industry doesn’t work that way. Howard and Moorcock, between magazines and anthologies, could make a living off of short fiction. Now, especially in sci-fi and fantasy, the focus is on the novel. Even better, the series of novels. There are still outlets, but there are fewer every month and the competition is so fierce for a dwindling market.
I think part of my worry as well is that, increasingly, I’m finding my “short” stories are not so short. Or they are end too soon before “something” happens. Could just be bad writing on my part. Could just be my writing evolving. Either way, it’s just something I’m thinking about.