About this time last year, I started trying to figure out how to write short stories (inspired in no small part by reading Darby Harn’s short fiction via Absolute Write.) I wanted to know they worked, how the fit together, how writers managed to put complete arcs in such low word counts.
Since last July, I’ve completed 6 short stories, 5 of which I considered good enough to sub. 4 have found a home and the 5th is trying its luck in a ‘zine queue at the moment. I’m not prolific by any means, but partly that’s because I tend to reject anything which I feel isn’t working out, usually by paragraph 2.
It’s been the single most useful thing I’ve done to try and improve my craft. (Not that you’d know that from these garbled blog posts, but hey ho.) That’s probably not news to anybody with any sense but it bears repeating. Figuring out how to create the suggestion of back-drop or back-story without actually spelling it out, how to do effective character sketches in a couple of sentences or less, and how to build emotion in a relatively short space has been absolutely invaluable.
Often, the stories I finish are born out of a realisation that something isn’t quite right in whichever novel I’m working on atm, and thrashing out a short piece helps show me a microcosm of what’s going wrong in the full length MS.
John Kills Jenny (forthcoming from Sub-Q in August) is an interactive fiction piece that perhaps best encapsulates the above; it helped me to wrap my head around the structure of plot and narrative in relation to what’s important versus what is window dressing. That probably sounds very banal to most people, but it’s a simple thing I struggle with (identifying what’s important or useful in a narrative, versus optional.)
No doubt others have had similar experiences, of course–I’m under no illusion that I offer anything unusual for examination, other than to join the chorus of people already shouting Learn short stories!