April 16th, 2006

Writing Short--Can't Do It

Anyone else afflicted with this malady? I grew up reading novels, tons upon tons of novels. They're very much my natural playground, so early on with RoF there was definitely a learning curve, in terms of familiarizing myself with various short story structures and conventions. Don't get me wrong. I'd read, written, and critiqued short stories before I started at RoF, but I never dealt with them with such regularity.

When I first started working at RoF, I imagined the constant exposure to various stories would help my writing. It has. I also thought it would become easier to write short fiction. It hasn't. In my life, I think I've written six stories under 7000 words. That's it. None of them have found a home (yet). The story I sold to Interzone was originally 7600 words. I was pleased with this, as it was relatively short (for me). After two rounds of rewrites, however, this tale ballooned to a healthy 14,400 words. This in itself is an oddity. For most people, the first professional sale comes in the form of either the short story or the novel. It's rare to do it with a novelette or novella. They're very unconventional lengths, which can give people fits in terms of structure and pacing. I know that I'm no exception.

The last story I worked on was a rewrite of a tale that Shawna had rejected for RoF. At the time, it was slightly under 9000 words. Her critique of this tale was short but to the point, and she easily identified the biggest problem with the story. So I went back, rewrote it, and it finished at around 16,800 words. This story needs another rewrite at some point, and it will certainly be shorter when I'm finished but it should still easily top 13,000 words. Currently I'm working on a supernatural horror piece. Going in, I had guesstimated it would be of a length around 8000 words. As of last night, I'm pushing 10,000. There is probably another 3-4,000 words left to this story before the first draft is done (and if anyone from my critique group is reading this, they're probably shuddering with horror, as I plan to pass this monster along). And as to my next story . . .well, at least I know this is a novelette going in (at least!)

There is a novelist inside of me, and he's screaming to be let out. At some point soon (hopefully this year), I plan to oblige him. But for now I prefer to sweat over these shorter works. It helps hone the craft. But I know I'll never be a natural short story writer, and I've come to accept this. But to all of you that have published shorter tales in RoF and other respectable venues, I tip my hat to you. A perfect short story is an amazing achievement, harder than many imagine. Since I started working at RoF, my respect for this form has multiplied many times over. And rightfully so. Making every word count, as you need to do with shorter lengths, is a tremedous challenge.

Keep up the good work, guys.