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.