One of the most difficult concepts an artist of any kind must confront is that of completion. That the outpouring of random thoughts into story, or painting, or composition can, at some point, be done. Not perfect, mind you, because perfection is a ghoul of an idea that will haunt your steps and rob you of confidence at every opportunity.
Nah, complete is really what we’re looking for. The point at which your work communicates what it sets out to say.
A short story forces you to deliver that message in tight boundaries. No floundering through flowery fields of fancy. No jaunts into side tales and subplots that deliver characterization. It’s a straight line to the finish, and it’s all about how awesome that straight line is.
A novel, or any larger work, requires a certain amount of content. Threads are picked up and put down. Characters appear, disappear, reappear as ghosts, and are finally eliminated in the heat death of the universe. This requires work. Work gets tiring. The next idea appeals, and suddenly your masterpiece is languishing in a folder on your computer that will only be opened in the event of your untimely demise.
A short story, meanwhile, occupies a whole range of lengths. Flash fiction can be as short as a paragraph. A sentence. Novelletes can be twenty pages. A brief encounter only ten, or three. Whereas a 200 page novel can be seen as “too short”, delivering a single-page description of a batter’s duel with a pitcher as a metaphor for his life, is, well, entirely acceptable.
I’m not going to delve into the myriad craft differences between writing short and long here. Not going to get into a debate about which format is better, or how you should go about tackling a short story.
What I will say is this: short stories have great potential for you, as the writer, to explore ideas without committing to weeks of work and thousands upon thousands of written words. They can expand your range, and give you access to new audiences through anthologies, magazines, blog posts, and more. They deserve your time.
I’ll also say that the best way to learn how to write short stories is to, well, write them. And then read a few. Pick up some of those magazines, like The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Perihelion or many others depending on your taste. Try browsing some of your favorite author’s websites and you might find free stories on offer. I’d also recommend collection (not just the anthology above) – like any of Raymond Carver’s books, Chekhov and Hemingway’s collections, Bradbury and Aasimov. It can be easier to tell an author’s style from how they write short work, and you’ll find yourself getting a feel for every word on the page.
Best of all, though, is that when you sit down for a few hours, typing away, you’ll have a completed work. Something you can submit to a collection, put on sale, or even just offer up as a tasty tale for your readers at minimal cost to you.
So give short stories a try, both as a reader and a writer. You might find them a wonderful addition to your literary life.
And if you feel so inclined, you can get some great tales in The Officer, including one of mine, on sale now here.