I’m working on short fiction just now, and boy, is it difficult! I’m a novelist by profession, happiest when working on something in the range of 110-160,000 words. But I got an opportunity I couldn’t turn down: to have a collection of my short fiction published next year by a specialist small press, Ticonderoga Publications. As well as the best of my previously published short stories, the collection will feature some new work. So in the next few months, alongside writing the current novel and editing the just-completed novel, I’ll be producing a couple of short stories and a new novella.
A writer friend commented that it would be hard to come up with enough ideas. For me, the challenge is not finding the ideas, it’s crafting them into the exacting form of the short story. The story I’m currently working on came to me in a dream while I was back in New Zealand earlier this year; it was a real gift. Somehow my dreaming mind put together elements from my NZ past with themes and ideas from more recent times, and wrapped them up in a cloak derived from my years of reading mythology to create something brimful with enchantment. Now I’m struggling for the perfect form and the perfect voice to capture that dream-magic in words.
Any kind of fiction presents its challenges, of course, but I find short stories especially hard. You can’t afford to waste words. The prose needs paring down to the length that will fit your story most effectively; the language must be tailored precisely to the emotional resonance you want to convey to your reader; the ‘voice’ must be perfect. A short story is not just a story with fewer words, it’s a distillation of meaning into a small container. Open the bottle, reveal a whole world. For a novelist, writing short stories can be daunting. It’s like tackling a miniature after years of painting murals.
While preparing for some writing workshops I’m presenting later this month, I looked at some common craft problems likely to get in the way of crafting a great short story. Here’s what I came up with. [Read more…]