On Writing Short Stories

Image courtesy of K-On!

Or to be more precise: On Getting Over Avoiding Writing Short Stories. For years I’ve avoided writing them by making myself believe that I couldn’t write them, no matter how much I tried. My brain always slid towards The Big Epic Story Idea and I couldn’t parse how to come up with something so….short and finite. Or so I believed.

My first attempt at seriously writing a short story was during the spring and summer of 1995, and it’s an embarrassing piece of crap and I can’t believe I thought Asimov’s would be interested it. It was a poor shaggy-dog pastiche of the virtual-reality/internet/etc wave of movies that had come out that year, and it read like I had no flipping idea how to end it. At the time I just shrugged and thought well, maybe I don’t have the chops to write like that, and gave up short-story ideas for years.

So what’s changed between then and now? Quite a bit, really. I’ve read a lot more short stories, microfiction, novellas, and novelettes over the years, many of them for Hugo Award voting purposes but also because it’s become a more accessible format with e-books, anthologies and story collections. I studied their flow and volume; how economical the author is with the action and the information, and how it all gets resolved. I taught myself how to write my own short microfiction by riffing on small ideas for my daily words.

Currently one of my many writing projects is to write short stories in a common universe. In this particular instance the common universe is a college campus, but it takes place in the same world as Diwa & Kaffi. No characters from that novel are involved — at least not directly, anyway — but the mood and the setting is similar. The idea was to write several small vignettes focusing on several students (and possibly faculty) and how they’re all just trying to figure out their lives as they mature. Some of the stories are linked, others are standalone. It’s all just one big experiment, both for me and for the characters.

In retrospect, it makes me wonder why I never tried this earlier. I suppose it might be because I was so focused on the epic scope of the Mendaihu Universe and my dedication to it for so damn long. I wrote Big Things and I enjoyed it immensely. It became habit to the point that when I thought of any new ideas, envisioning them as novel length became the default. And most of them failed because I could not flesh them out to that size, no matter how I tried, and they ended up trunked. It took me a long time to break myself out of that school of thought.

I feel different about short stories nowadays, now that I understand the form so much better. I’m still new at writing them, but I’m getting better at it the more I practice. (And that’s why I still do my daily words on top of my novel work.) I’m already seeing them as a viable outlet for submission for my writing career…I mean, that was the original plan anyway, right?

It’s about damn time I stopped looking at it all as hard work and an impossibility and started seeing it as an achievable goal.

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