As I get back into my routine following my volunteering time with FOGcon, I’m reflecting on the art form that is the short story. Many (though not all) authors in the science-fiction and fantasy genres write short stories. In fact, many of them got their start in this particular form of storytelling, and then eventually move into writing novels. It’s a time-honored traditions.
I’ve tried writing short stories before, without much success. At one time I would have said that everything I know about crafting stories applies only to longer forms, not the brevity required for a good short story. The couple of times I’ve tried writing a short story have resulted in critiques that generally say, “This is a synopsis of a novel, not a short story.” That said, the stories I build for my church’s Solstice celebrations definitely qualify as “short stories.”
While at FOGcon, I talked with several published authors all of whom write short stories. I also did a little bit of reading on the web from people who write about the structure of a short story. And, of course, I thought a lot about what I’ve always read about the craft of writing. And I’m realizing that many of the short stories I read in magazines don’t follow the rules that I’m told always have to be followed. It’s a bit perplexing, honestly.
I’ve recently read two novellas from an issue of Asimov’s from some time last year, and neither of them really had a central conflict, or if they did, it wasn’t the conflict of the main character. The evident protagonist was an observer while someone (or in one case, something) else went through the conflict development and resolution process. Character development is also rather lacking in the stories I’ve read. So I’m beginning to wonder if my inhibition around writing short stores is self-inflicted by trying to follow all of the advice I’ve heard and read over the years.
With that in mind, I have decided to give writing short stories another try. Playing with a random brainstorming app I found for iOS, I came across a phrase that was interestingly evocative. I struggled for a bit to try and find a conflict, and then tried turning the conflict requirement on its ear like the stories I’ve been reading. And viola! A plot quickly came to mind. The writing is going well, and I have no idea how long this thing will run word count-wise. It’s all a grand experiment yet again.
(If I seem to jump around with my writing practice a lot, it’s true, I do. This week I want to write a novel. That week I want to write short stories. The next week I just want to agonize over worldbuilding. It’s not a good trait, and I want to be more focused. But first I need to know what I want to focus on, and that’s not yet clear to me.)