1. elfdragonlord
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    elfdragonlord Member

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    I find short stories annoyingly difficult to write

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by elfdragonlord, Jan 28, 2007.

    I'm aware that one of the best ways to break into being a professional writer is by submitting short stories to magazines, particularly for science fiction or fantasy writers.

    However I have a major problem with writing short stories. Whenever I come up with a good idea for a story, try as I might to keep it simple, the plot always ends up unravelling into something too complex and involved to obey the word limit of a short story. I find it hard to write anything engaging or interesting (ie. worth reading) that doesn't involve too many places, too much information, too much background, too many twists and turns or whatever to be contained within a short story format.

    I love writing novel length stories. I think it's what I'm best at. But I would like to learn the art of the short story too. Any suggestions or advice?
     
  2. Max Vantage
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    Bear with me when I say this as I don't mean to sound rude or that I'm pointing my finger, but it sounds as if you lack discipline. I say this because, as you say, "the plot of your stories always ends up unravelling into something too complex".

    This implies to me that you write straight away based only on fragments of an idea without having explored much about it, such as the theme or moral of the story. The theme grounds your story into a single all-important idea. Without it you could end up invading your proposed story with more and more and become overwhelmed such as you are suggesting now.

    When you have figured out the context of your story then you'll find the content becomes much easier to condense down into the single idea told through narrative. If it's a short story you need to develop discipline in order to keep a simple idea simple. It's not easy, but if you're well learned about how to write instead of what to write then these problems will be dealt with as soon as they arise. Such things as knowing your characters, not what they look like or whether they wield giant swords etc - that's characterisation, or "flavouring" as I like to call it! I mean knowing your character enough to know the valid choices they make within a given dramatic situation.
    Knowing the genre, the time, the setting, the place, a complete understanding of the many varying tenses and points of view (preferably having previously become proficient from practicing them), knowing how to use proper dialogue as opposed to simply using unnecessary speech, etc, etc. These are amongst the basics.

    I'll give you an example hopefully sometime tomorrow with a short story I'm currently writing which is actually very simple.

    But until then, do you have a theme for your story? What's it about?

    If you can answer those two then you have more or less solved some headaches.

    It's not gospel but it is advisable: learn to master the short story form first before even attempting a long story. If you're having problems with a shortie then I sure know that novel-length will prove too tasking for you. The ideas you have may be grand but that doesn't alter the fact that they can still be told in a nutshell.

    Practiced writers know how to do this...so practice. And I'll see you (hopefully if I finish the thing) tomorrow. :)
     
  3. elfdragonlord
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    elfdragonlord Member

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    You are wrong about this. I have been planning what I write for years now. I plan what kind of story it is, how it will start, when it will end, who the main characters are, what their motives are, the background setting of the story, all the different steps that need to happen to take the main theme or idea one step further.

    I very naturally think in terms of one thing causes another, or such-and-such needs to happen before such-and-such can happen.

    Yes - that's what I have problems with. Keeping the plot simple. And more importantly - keeping the story interesting and worth reading whilst chopping it down to a simple level.

    Short stories are so short that it comes down to this - something is wrong with the world and the main character gets involved in this wrongness, there is a battle, it all gets solved - THE END.

    That's crap - I want several other things to happen to the hero before he finally succeeds.

    Or perhaps this - character is in a state of flux and needs to change his life circumstances because he can't cope anymore. After he reaches the end of his tether, he finds something else - a new role for his life. Everything is well again. THE END.

    Because short stories can't be any more complicated than that.

    The only way around this is to have a thoroughly detailed plot but cut down on a lot of the details, a lot of the characterisation - A LOT OF THE GOOD WRITING

    So you see what I mean. Telling me that I need to plan more, I need to characterise more etc - isn't really going to help me. Because I'm asking how on earth you can keep a story down to a short story when you do all of that planning and characterisation. I guess I could write a short story, maybe even write it well - but I'd still tend to think it was crap because the idea was too simple and the source of tension too quickly and easily solved. (I guess I just prefer novels to short stories!)
     
  4. Robert
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    It seems (to me) as though you're seeing the short story as a cut down novel from your description above. Maybe this is at the heart of your problem. Clearly, good short stories aren't crap and do have a lot of good writing in them, contrary to what you suggest.

    Have you read much published short fiction? If so, can you list some examples of what you've read?

    Anyhow, why not just carry on writing novel length if that's what suits you?

    Cheers,
    Rob
     
  5. elfdragonlord
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    elfdragonlord Member

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    Yeah. I don't usually read short stories. I read novels.

    The only short stories I'm familiar with are Robert E. Howard's Conan stories.

    Actually, I was thinking a lot about this at work today -and I concluded that short stories are a totally different format to novels and the same rules don't apply.

    If a novel is like a film - then a short story is more like a 30 min TV program.

    I am vaguely aware that one way to approach the short story is to have a really good, engaging idea and then form the story around that in a very simple single situation kind of way.

    But I don't think I'd be very good at that. I've decided to approach it like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or like one of the Conan stories. I'll invent some really fascinating, constantly entertaining hero characters and each short story will involve them dealing with a single threat (like a very simple good guys v bad guys story). I can't expect to be able to do quite the same things I can do in novels in a short story format.

    Already I am coming up with some quite interesting ideas anyway.

    Why not just stick to novels? You can't sell novels to magazines - and so short stories are a good way of making enough of a name for yourself to start targetting the publishers with novel length stories.
     
  6. Robert
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    Yeah, that sounds fair enough. You seem to have an understanding of the issues. I'd say read a lot of short stories, of various genre and by different authors, over the next few months, and try writing some without worrying about how good or bad they might be. I remember someone saying your first fifty stories will be crap. Or maybe it was a hundred. Whatever, the idea is sound - we all write poorly to begin with but you have to write those poor ones on the way to becoming a better writer.

    Good luck.

    Cheers,
    Rob
     
  7. TWErvin2
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    Much of what I would suggest has been discussed already. While there is much similar when writing short stories and novels, the approach and method of story telling differs.

    With a short story, the plot has to be less complex, even simple. Simple does not equal boring. The number of characters is limited, as well.

    With a short story, one has to plan ahead, refine the conflict and get to it on page one.

    All that said, submitting short stpries for publication in professional rate paying magazines is highly competative and not necessarily easier than publishing a novel. The advantage is that, in theory, it takes less time to write a short story (all that goes into it...research, editing, revision, etc.) than a novel. This, if it takes 18 months to get a novel written and ready for submission, one could possibly have written and submitted eight to ten short stories.

    Some writers are more comfortable with short stories, others with longer novellas or novels. Not every writer is able to easily switch back and forth.

    It's kind of like playing softball and baseball. There is a lot of crossover in skills, technique and strategy, but they're not exactly the same.

    Elfdragonlord, you indicated that you do not read many short stories. That may be a good place to start. Don't just read them, however, study them. See how the writer put it together, examine the parameters used, and see if you can modify and apply them with the skills and techniques you've developed already.

    Just another opinion to add to the mix.

    Terry
     
  8. HellOnEarth
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    HellOnEarth Banned

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    Beautifully written review, unfortunately, Elfdog doesn't seem to quite understand. What a pity.
     
  9. Max Vantage
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    Max Vantage Banned

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    Problems? :confused:
     
  10. WhiteRider
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    WhiteRider Contributing Member

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    I think you should write lengh novels if that's what you're good at. I like to write long stories as well. I like to be detailed and my Dad say it's what i'm good at. I don't really like writing short stuff, but if you want to i'm sure you'll get it. Good luck!
     
  11. Fortis
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    Hey, basically in a short story, you don't explain the background, and you don't go into much detail. You just have to write cleverly so you don't need to, but the audience will know.

    E.g = "What's my brother done this time?"
    Implies the brother is a trouble-maker

    My brother is generally a very naughty person. We quite often get phone calls from his school, teachers asking about him, and once, the principal, like, for example this one time; ...

    Same meaning and stuff, one is shorter, and less boring.
     

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