The Finisher (or why I like writing short stories)

I’ve really enjoyed writing short stories over the past few months. And I think with the quarantine in place and the resulting stress it has been hard to focus on my big projects. But working on short stories, something quick, simple, bite size has been a boon and a catharsis.

I used to be really adverse to writing short stories, mostly because I was always the person that had an idea and wanted to make it as big as I could. But as of late, I’ve been trying more and more to write short stories that are very much meant to be small.

I also like that they have been easy to finish. The sense of accomplishment that is oftentimes so out of reach with bigger projects is easier, within sight and once achieved it’s just as easy to jump to the next small thing. Especially when a bigger project is being obtuse or frustrating.

There’s an art to short stories, but not one that’s unattainable.

I’m still new to short stories but this is the track I’ve gone on to improve my grasp on the form.

  • World build in subtle hints and comments and observations of the characters. If the characters believe it then the reader will believe it (within reason).
  • Focus on something that can easily be resolved or answered.
  • Start at the end of something.
  • Explore a thought process.
  • Keep the locales to a minimum (1-2).
  • Explore a single emotion.

I’m now getting to the point where I’ve been able to internalize the above. So my next task is taking these and using the space I’ve given myself efficiently. That means removing things and words and concepts that don’t directly improve or color the main idea of the short story sufficiently. A lot of this comes in the editing phase, but can be applied in the principle writing phase by being very intentional with writing. I get there by inhabiting the mind and mental space of the main character and going to ground with that character in their journey.

What do they see, what do they hear, what do they experience that drives them forwards towards the end you have for them?

I get the most enjoyment out of feeling like I’ve experienced the journey with my character through their eyes.

I avoided short stories because I thought short stories were too small to contain the ideas I had, but really by actually taking part in the writing of short stories, I see how they are just as much the building blocks of bigger stories by making the process of emotion, character, and succinct plot the primary focus.

From these lessons, I can apply a better more clear eye to larger stories, even though they a more daunting, harder to finish, and ten times more layered.

But mostly, I really like short stories because they are usually one and done, the sandbox playground for small ideas that might one day become big. They are the places to push the boundaries of individual characters and their views of the world. The are the building blocks for greater understanding of storytelling.

Over the past year I’ve built some short stories into my regular writing game plan and I feel so much better prepared to write the big projects that sometimes keep me up at night.

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