Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Post Nano Series: The Short Story as a Tool

Why are short stories so hard?  Maybe they come easily to you, but I tend to be wordy.

Wait! Aren't we supposed to be talking about my novel? You know the one I worked so hard to finish. The one that I needed more words for?

Yes, and we will, I promise. First a visual, because I like them.
Your Novel. This is a marathon. There are lots of miles to settle into a good pace. Pace is all important and it can make or break the run--or your novel.
The Short Story. You've got to give it all you've got from the very first sentence as you push yourself to perform.
 I mentioned that I tend to be wordy. Sometimes I overwrite, and then I have to revise the dickens out of those sections. Overwriting is one of the things that can keep your novel in the slush piles (the stack of unsolicited novel queries from aspiring writers aka no-bodies-in-the-publishing-world-yet) of agents everywhere.

So, what is overwriting? Here's a summation of a great post by Roni at Fiction Groupie.
  1. Too many adjectives and adverbs
  2. Using a fancy word when a simple one will do.
  3. Describing things as if you were a set designer (aka so much detail that the reader could build the set. This doesn't leave any room for the reader to use their imagination, and it takes time away from the action.)
  4. Simile and Metaphor overload.
  5. Redundancy (this is my problem. I tell and then I show, and sometimes I recap. It's like hitting your reader over the head and screaming "Pay attention to this! Don't miss it! Look, did you catch what I'm hinting at?" Yeah, readers don't take kindly to being talked down too.)
  6. Too much introspection (Roni called it Navel-gazing. A little is good, but break it up with action.)
  7. Trying too hard. (Passages that sound like you're trying to be a writer. Roni points us to the times Simon Cowell called a performance "Indulgent")
I'm using the short story, flash fiction in particular, to hone my writing skills and stop overwriting. Here are my top three reasons to try and write short stories.

  1. Writing a complete story in 1000 words or less (flash) forces you to be clear and concise in your word choices.
  2. Crafting and selling short stories to reputable venues is an excellent way to build publishing credits to add to your query letter, helping you sell that novel.
  3. Writing a short story can provide a much needed mental break from the novel you are perfecting. 
Care to give it a try? Here are some options to play with:
Twitter Story--140 characters, not words!
Drabble--around 100 words
Micro-fiction--the average is less than 400 words, but some reach 750 (source)
Flash Fiction--around 1000 or less
Short Story--depends, but looks like anywhere between 7K and 9K words. Wikipedia states, "In contemporary usage, the term short story most often refers to a work of fiction no longer than 20,000 words and no shorter than 1,000."

The point is to work on economy. Choosing words that pack the most meaning and emotion into that allotted word count. 


  1. Great list! I have a problem with wordiness. When I started writing fiction, people asked, "Why did you start with a NOVEL?" Maybe it was laziness on my part. It gave me room to run and make mistakes. I also knew the challenge of writing a good short story (what you discussed above). I'm just now exploring short fiction, and I still feel like I'm overwriting.

  2. AMEN!!!! I've really improved drastically in my writing this last year due to short stories. It's amazing how much easier it is to recognize problems in a shorter format. PLUS... beta readers can give you a more thorough revision on short stories and help you catch problem areas that you're most likely revisiting in your novels. (I really struggle with too much introspection myself.)

    If you've never visited this site, it's great for flash fiction prompts:

  3. Thanks. I've always wondered about the differences between short stories.


  4. Charity,

    I found you through your comment on my entry over on Miss Snark's blog (First Kiss, entry #30).

    Thanks for taking the time to read my entry and leaving such lovely encouragement.

    Now I'm off to snoop around your blog :)

    Christi Corbett

  5. If it's too short you might have a classified advertisement ready for the newspaper. LOL
    (Enjoyed your post).

  6. Thanks for the mention! And I have to admit, I'm totally intimidated by writing shorter stuff. It's one of my write goals this year to attempt a short story or novella. :)

    Good luck!

  7. My problem is I can't think of a conflict uncomplicated enough to fit in such a small amount of words.

  8. Great points on over-writing. I actually only write shorts, taking the route you mentioned regarding writing credits in literary or other magazines. I do have a novel in mind, but keeping focus on my shorts for now. Reading short stories has helped me alot to understand the writing process of them.

  9. What a great way to try and hone your skills. I was writing drabbles for a while, but have gotten out of the habit. My problem is not that I'm wordy, but that I can't think of a story on a micro level in terms of what's happening. In fact, last semester I wrote a story for my short fiction class and was told it was great, but my 2500 words should have been a novel. Ha! But, still, maybe I'll try my hand at some short fiction again. You've given me some excellent reasons for doing so (like resume building and honing the craft).

    Thanks! and Good luck!

  10. Excellent list! I may or may not fall into one or more of these traps from time to time. Great reminder!

  11. Writing short stories with a fixed maximum word count is THE best way to learn the art of concise yet descriptive prose. Good luck with it!

  12. Thanks for stopping by everyone! I'm sorry I didn't reply to everyone by email like I usually try to do.

    The short story format is great because it forces us to really think about each word. Something I definitely need more practice on. I hope you all come back on Monday for an opportunity to practice with me. Hint hint. ;)

  13. That's a good list, and I love that you're writing flash fiction to keep your wordiness at bay :)
    I may be biased cause that's what I write, but that's what I love about flash fiction as well, it keeps things to a minimum, yet says so much.


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