I’ve been writing a lot of short stories lately, pushed by something that Dean Wesley Smith said at the workshop – at one point, he wrote 44 short stories in a row, one a week.  Another thing he said:  if it takes more than a few hours to write a short story, you’re wasting your time as a writer.  (I have a feeling he said it better than that, but you get the point.)

Hell, I said.  If not now, when?

So I’ve been trying to write a new story every Tuesday.  That makes three new stories in three weeks.

I didn’t get it done until Wednesday this week, mostly because I was trying something new (deliberate world building), and I started with a setting before I had a plot in mind, and it thhhhhhbbbbt did not work.  I started over on Tuesday night with a plot, then (look over there!  Baby wolf!) sneaked it into the setting.  I don’t know why it made such a big difference, but it did.

What I’ve learned so far:  it’s not that hard, once you’re at a certain point in your skill set, to turn out a short story quickly.  What you need to know:

  • How to write quickly, no matter how badly. NaNoWriMo is good for this.
  • How grammar works, in general (nobody wants to do days of cleanup on commas, and short stories have to be just about perfect before you send them).
  • How a character voice works, that is, how to make your characters sound and act like themselves and not someone else.
  • How a plot works, that is, how to set up a beginning, middle, and end.
  • How to create a setting that reflects character voice.
  • How to open up and trust your instincts and your emotions (very difficult for me).  You don’t have time to think about it; you just have to have faith.

Sorry.  Simple statements of complex life lessons, as a writer.  But it’s not like you have to be a Master of the Short Story in order to start writing them, just have the (extremely complicated) basics down.  These last three stories aren’t great, but they’re not half-bad, either.  If I’d come across them in a magazine, I would have enjoyed them.

Also, no matter how bad you think a story is, finish it.  This last one, I was cursing myself for a fool and an idiot until I got almost to the end, and then I liked it.  For me, it has a touch of grace, a completely undeserved gift from a higher (if nastier) being.    Not a deus ex machina ending, but a mysterious judgement that the main character has difficulty accepting.  I like that.  Okay, there are a couple of points I’m still not sure about, but I’ll let a few rejection slips talk me out of them instead of second-guessing myself before I even send it.

The last thing is that the patterns that I find in the subjects I pick is slightly horrifying.  Not the plots, but the themes.  Really?  Is this what I think about?  But maybe it’s a type of therapy, burning out my issues in stories much like Picasso painted through his Blue Period, and when they’re gone, I’ll never be able to write this type of story again, so I may as well use them up while I’ve still got them.

So, total novels out:  2.

Total short stories out:  9.  Wish me luck; I’m on the short list on one of them.

I think my goal for next week is to write sci-fi with an actual what-if idea.  I don’t write much of it, mostly low (non-world-building) fantasy.  Fantasy set in a sci-fi world won’t count, I think, unless I get stuck on an idea, and that that’s what I get.

Oh, and a note:  if you start writing a short story, and it turns into a novel, and you’re not under contract for a short story?  So what?  The novel I’m working on now started out just like that.