Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Short Stories vs. Long Stories (and Flailing!)

This morning I started to write a post about science fiction and fantasy conventions, but I am so not in the mood for that post. Maybe it will have its time next week. Today I'm all bummed and aggrieved about the way my writing has gone this summer. I'm my own little maelstrom of drama and despair* over here. So let me tell you about my problem.


Yeah. So I was starting to put together ideas for a novel (and I'm sure you'll hear about that at great length in the future, so brace yourself in advance, my friends. Brace). But then I thought, you know what? It's summer. The kids are home more than usual and the schedule is changing around because of their various activities and classes, and then I'm going to WorldCon in August and all, so why don't I just write a short story or two, just for practice, you know? Quick stories. Short ones. [Because this is roughly the way I talk to myself, in case you were wondering. Throw in some angst here and there and this is the real thing.]

And I sat down and used some of my nifty, obsessive lists that I've made for putting together ideas and what-ifs. These lists are truly a spectacle. I may try to explain them someday as well, but it may take a few posts to get into all that. Anyway, with the aid of the epic lists, I got a notion, worked up a character, and started to create a story throughline (as I like to do, given my outlining ways). It took me longer than I'd like to admit to recognize that I had a brand-new novel idea on my hands. Also, it was in better shape than the other novel idea I'd been thinking about.

So what went wrong? Time went wrong.

Looking back over my relatively successful short stories, I see that the two that will be published soon cover short time periods. The events of "Three Transformations" take place within a few hours, with most of the action happening within about fifteen minutes, and it's 4,700 words long. "Running in Wonderland" isn't actually a short story; it's a novelette. It covers almost exactly twenty-four hours, and it is 9,500 words long. The story that made me a semi-finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest covered a week of story time, with many time-jumps across summarized activity. What do these three stories have in common? They all exist only because I was invited to submit stories to three anthologies. The first two made it in, and the third one was short-listed before it got rejected, but then it did well in Writers of the Future. I had no trouble with the word counts of those stories, because I was following someone else's rules. The stories wouldn't be successful if they were too long, so I didn't make them too long. I follow guidelines given to me by other people. Evidently when I'm making my own rules for a story-to-be, I'm secretly open to breaking them.

I don't have all that much to complain about. I wanted a short story idea, but I got a good novel idea instead. I also learned that if I want to write a short story that stays short, it's a good idea to set limits on how much time the story's events will take. Finally, the most important thing I've gotten out of all this is that if I make a rule for a project, I need to mean it!

*I have been known to exaggerate. FYI.