Several November’s ago, I embarked on a grand adventure. I had an idea for an amazing story, and when I learned what NaNoWriMo was all about, I had to jump in with both feet. Thirty days later, I had a complete (rough!) first draft of a novel. Between the thrill of having the idea for the novel and the exhileration of completing it, I knew I had tapped into a part of me that I would never be able to let go of.
Since that time, I have learned a lot about myself and my writing. For one thing, the idea of writing a 50-80 K novel excites me with every glimmer of inspiration I get.
I have learned a lot about time management (even though, let’s face it, it’s tough to balance everything sometimes). I am now a definite plotter when I can, or care to be, and I have mastered the art of productive pantsing. Yes, I love the process of creating a full length novel.
But something affected me recently. I was asked by a writer friend to do a beta read of one of his short stories for a competition. I will freely admit that short stories have never been something that I would choose to read. But something in the way that a diminutive word can convey a full story, beginning-middle-and end, enlightened something in me.
Around the same time as this enlightenment, a short story submission announcement showed up in my inbox. So, I did the only thing I could. I dusted off an old story idea which had been tucked away somewhere in my laptop, waiting for its day in the sun. I looked at the strange words I had written about it, and then freaked out a little.
But with the help of a couple of my writer friends, who I consider “Short Story Enthusiasts”, I managed to transform a focus-less plot into a short story that I am proud of.
Working on this short story has taught me several things.
- I don’t need a multitude of chapters to tell a good, complete story.
- The small word count allotted for a short story makes me use much better words. I have to be very picky!
- There is nothing to fear about pacing a short story plot.
- I don’t need to devote hundreds of words to backstory when I can use more effective word-choices to infer the same information.
- I have learned to be far less “tell-y”, because there simply isn’t time in a short story.
I still love writing novels. I love how they are constructed, and I love how a novel paces out the plot over time, allowing me to live with the characters for a while. But having worked on this short story, I have better perspective as a writer. The techniques of using language in a concise, descriptive way can only help me as a novelist.
Readers, I am curious. How many of you novelists have delved into the realm of the short story? How does writing short stories impact your novel writing?