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More thoughts on writing short

Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I just read two anthologies, one about 10 years old, another published just last year. They were similar in that they both had themes, and all the stories were quite short. They each had at least 6 or 7 stories from different authors -- no authors in common -- and they must have had a word length of probably no more than, say, 15K words. That might even be a little generous.

Anyway, I think it's interesting that people who can write perfectly wonderful novels can't seem to master the art of just telling the damn story. I read stories that had subplots just bursting out of the seams. I read stories that, even for me, just couldn't make me believe anything about the characters.

One of the difficult things about writing short romances is that there's a huge burden to make readers believe that two people who don't know each other from Adam can make it to something leading to a HEA at the end. A lot of people say the task is made easier if your H/h already know each other, but I tend not to write reunion or best friend stories or what have you. I love first meetings -- the weirder, the better for me. I think that perhaps for that reason, the short story reader needs to be able to suspend disbelief a bit more than the novel reader. If you start with a first meet, unless you stick one of those "Three months later" headers in there, you have to go from 0 to 60 in just a few short pages. That's tough.

I think it gets even tougher the more erotic the story is. I read a Lori Foster short that succeeded, even though probably a third of the word count was their first sex scene. Even though I'm not an erotica writer, I'm going to posit that especially for a short story, the sex is less important than the sensual tone.

Another thing that challenges the short writer is that by the end the reader needs to feel like the story is truly done -- that it wouldn't necessarily be better if only it was 80,000 words longer. Personally, I often read novels that would be a lot better as novellas -- blah, blah, blah. Yoicks.

Angela Knight made a very good point in an article she wrote several months ago about writing novellas -- you cannot save the world in a short story. You can conquer one villain, you can solve one problem, but you cannot change the universe. Make your problem fit your story. Vice versa, you can make your story fit your problem. As I said above, I've read plenty of novels that were mostly padding around one smallish dilemma. Of the short stories I've read in the last couple of days, several had this problem. Too much stuff was happening. Naval battles, the hero was blinded, she had to help him retain his position as captain of his ship (!!) and she was pregnant in the epilogue scene. Good grief. Pick a problem, just don't pick ALL of them!

Some of the stories were simply not to my taste -- no big. I don't expect to love every portion of an anthology. The one thing I often learn in a story collection is not just which authors to look up, but which ones to avoid. A certain Grande Dame of the Native American romance (**coughcough*C.E.*coughcough**) made me laugh out loud as I read one of her stories.

And not in a good way.

Granted, it was in the older anthology, but have writing styles changed so much in 10 years? "You dare not touch me in that way," she hissed. I kid you not. That's a direct quote. I nearly hurt myself.

All this navel gazing is by way of getting me back to my story, which is currently stalled. Not for long, I'm sure, I'm just having trouble sitting down and writing. The constant Pantzer problem -- what's the next word? I may not even be able to get much more writing done until January. School is out on Friday, so I'll be crawling with Monkey Children for the next 3 weeks or so.
12/14/2005 10:38:00 PM : : Sela Carsen : : 9 Comments


Just to point out it is physically impossible to hiss without an s in a word. It is one of my editor's more pedantic points but she is right.
There is no way anyone can hiss Don't touch me there. Try it and you'll see.
But I do agree that the novella is another artform to a novel.

By Blogger Michelle Styles, at 4:58 AM  

That's part of the reason I laughed, Michelle. Hissing words that just won't hiss is one of my pet peeves in reading.

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 6:34 AM  

Sela, I think you're absolutely right about the difficulties of writing short.
Having tried both long and short (and failed, at times, with both), I've come to appreciate that writing short is a distinct talent.

And I wish there were more markets for them. I love a good short story!

By Anonymous raine, at 2:27 AM  

FYI, this is the link to Angela's article http://angelasknights.blogspot.com/2005/02/making-long-story-short.html

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 2:53 PM  

I started writing with short stories., and moved up to longer. I think it's made a huge difference as a writer becaseu when I get stuck (as a pantser I often do) I just revert to short story form, and then rewrite, layer and tweak until my story is more....full?

At least I hope I'm doing ok with both formtts because I enjoy both. LOL

By Anonymous Sasha, at 5:32 PM  

I don't read alot of shorts stories--whether novella, or even category. But you're right, they take a special type of skill to pull off.

By Blogger Jaye, at 3:27 PM  

And I think writing novels takes a special kind of skill!

But you are right. they are nto interchangeable for sure.

By Blogger Sasha White, at 8:34 PM  

Good points about novellas. I once made a mistake of trying to squeeze into a novella enough characters and subplots to make it a novel. I had to cut a lot later to make the story stronger and, well, less confusing!

By Anonymous Olga, at 11:49 PM  

I don't have any intelligent comment to make, just that I really enjoyed this post, Sela!

By Blogger Anna Lucia, at 9:32 AM  

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