Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Allure of Short Fiction

I haven't written short fiction since college. I haven't read it since then, either. About the time I finished my creative writing class and graduated, I realized that to pack in the information that I wanted, I needed many more pages. Which led to my first novel being over 1,300 pages. Whew! I got that out of my system, and my next novel was only in the low 300s—much better written and far more marketable.

I didn't think I'd ever look back. For one, I want to make a living as an author, and I think even short-story editors who've manned their post at various short-story magazines for the last twenty-five years would be hard pressed to point out one person who's made a good living on short stories alone.

But lately I've found myself thinking about them more. I think it's part of brainstorming several books at once, and one very specific novel that I'm not sure I'm capable of writing. It's a high-concept blockbuster (think Independence Day or 2012 or War of the Worlds) that would require far more research than I feel capable of at this moment—though from my complete unwillingness to reveal even a scrap of the idea, you can tell I'm still considering it.

I've thought through this novel concept from every angle. From the movie I'd love to see it as to the backdrop it could be for a different, smaller story to being an important footnote in history in a story. I've built elaborate research strategies in my head that might help this book one day reach reality. I have five large sticky notes on my wall that detail several different approaches, including my research approach, which is the longest sticky note of all. It's an idea that doesn't want to die.

Here's the strange part: this novel is huge; it's broad-reaching and would almost have to carry several story lines, something like a James A. Michener novel. (You're hopefully seeing my intense hesitancy with taking on this novel, right?) But there have been multiple points in my brainstorming process when I've thought a scene, a moment, an event would make a wonderful short story.

Which has gotten me thinking about other ideas, stories I've abandoned or put on the back burner, and which parts could be picked out for a short story.

I'm also trying to remind myself that just because it's short doesn't mean that it's easy. I remember how much I worked on my short stories in college. I remember the problems of a novel are there, they're just condensed. But there's still that shining allure that a short story would not only be easy (and yes, even as I think it, I laugh), but it would help get some of this story either out of my system or help me clarify how the novel should play out.

Naturally, there's the hope that in the meantime, I could get published!


Shaida said...

I think many authors manage to get agents by having their short stories published, so although it distracts from writing the big stuff, it's a totally worthwhile endeavor. Also, a lot of short stories get made into movies--they're just the right length for two hours of action.

TikiBird said...

I love short stories! I love reading them in magazines and in a book of many short stories by the same author, or in an anthology of short stories by different authors (i.e., "The Best New XYZ of 2009" and those sorts of things).

I think short stories are so appealing and so tricky to write, but that's part of the allure. Every word matters, because there are fewer words.

I say, if you want to write short stories, go for it, and worry about publication after the fact. Just write what you want.

And there's also the novella, if you want more than a short story but less than your usual epics. :)

Rebecca Chastain said...

Shaida, how perfect would it be for me to write the story I can't figure out how to write as a novel, but write it as a short story and have it then be made into a movie? Totally perfect! Especially if I received a good deal of the profits.

TikiBird, I love the idea of every word mattering, and I know it does in a novel, but not nearly as much. It's one of the things I remember best from my college classes. One of the stories I wrote was so ON. Every word worked. It didn't have an ending, at least not a proper one, so it wasn't perfect, but it was good.

I think I'd have to treat the short stories like a writing exercise: very good to do, but not necessarily going anywhere. Then, if I did sell them, it'd be a bonus. Because you're right, I don't want to have to worry about publication until after the fact.

Though I'm liking Shaida's comment that a lot of short story writers make their break into published novels that way.