Thursday, October 4, 2012

Who Writes Short Shorts?

by Allison Pang

The short  (ha ha) answer to that question is not me.  Like many of my Word-Whore brethren, the short story is not my friend.

Can I write one? Yes. But it definitely takes a different mind set. When you have a limited amount of space to convey the story, every word has to count. And that probably sounds bad - I mean, every word should count in anything you write...but when you've got a nice blanket of 100k words to sprawl out in, it's pretty easy to slow things down a bit and take your time getting to the destination. Sort of like taking a country drive. The end destination may be the same, but you get to enjoy the journey a bit more.

Or something like that. I'm not great with analogies.

Hemingway supposedly wrote a short story in 6 words. I say supposedly, because there are varying degrees of belief as to whether he actually did pen it:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn. 

And whether he wrote it or not, it's a marvelous bit of prose, simply because it leaves so much up to the reader to determine.

Most of us aren't Hemingway though - and writing short stories requires the word count to be a bit more robust than that. (Except for you flash fiction writers - you people are crazy. I wish I could come up with something awesome in a paragraph or less, but I've failed just about every time I've tried.)

So where does that leave me? I've got a short story coming out in an upcoming UF anthology - Carniepunk will be out in August 2013. But as much as I wanted to write the particular story that was in it, I am NOT good at staying inside a word count. I like room to roam. So I actually rewrote the thing about 7 times over the span of a month, simply because I was so frustrated. I kept changing tense. PoV. Major plot points.

Maybe it was just the pressure of the thing. I don't know.

My other "professional" attempt is actually the short comic story "Comet" coming out in an upcoming issue of  Womanthology: Space.  I haven't seen the art for it yet, so to be honest I'm really not too sure how well I managed to squeeze a retelling of The Little Mermaid (genderbent and with robots in the future) into 6 pages.  Doubly hard for me, because 1) I'm lousy at short stories and 2) totally different media. It's hard to convey everything I wanted to say in the space, especially given that my original idea probably could have been a full on novella, at least.

But I think maybe I sometimes find short stories unsatisfying. (Reading them, anyway). Usually they end just as I'm getting excited about what's going on. It's a tad frustrating.

That being said, I would like to see about increasing my short story output - I do think they can be a great way for an author to help build up a readership and increase writing craft.

Right after I finish up this epic fantasy. ;-)


  1. Oh yeah - that epic fantasy won't take long at all...

  2. When I started writing, I received the (bad) advice that if I wanted to write a novel I needed to write short stories first and get them published, but I couldn't ever do it. They were agony to write.

    When I learned otherwise and started writing a novel, it was wonderful and so much easier to write.

    Then I started writing flash fiction, and was shocked that I could do it. In thinking about it, I realized my initial problem with short stories. I was writing too much story. I always tried to explain everything. In 500 words, there's just no room, so I didn't bother trying.

    I've been able to write short stories more recently using that lesson. I don't try to include the kitchen sink or explain how it works anymore. It actually makes it easier to show rather than tell.

    I've also discovered that for me, short stories are good palate cleansers if I'm working on a longer piece and in between phases.