I don’t normally write short stories and I haven’t for years. It’s odd in a way, when I first started writing, back in the early 90’s, short stories were all I wrote. I was pretty good at them, too. My first and most glowing rejection letter was from Warren Lapine from Absolute Magnitude over a short story I submitted. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is that I lost both the story and that rejection letter. I assume I threw it out in one of my depressed, bitter moments but who knows.
Anyway, writing short stories is a very, VERY different skill set than writing novels. Short stories are hard. Every word counts. Every sentence needs to contribute to the plot. In a way, this will be good exercise for my next novel (now projected to begin May 1st). I’m trying to write a more compact, faster-paced novel this time. But the skills with one don’t necessarily transfer over into the other. Oh grammar and spelling, characterization and so forth do, the craft for novels isn’t that different from short stories; it’s not like writing in Chinese. But novel writers tend to sprawl, include characters, sub-plots and even descriptions that are totally valid in a novel but clog up a short story.
Likewise, short story writers burn out all the time trying to write a novel-length work. My guess as to the reason? They are too focused on sentence construction and word choice. That kind of close attention to detail is draining. Over the course of a twenty page story, it’s possible, even important. Trying to keep that kind of focus over the course of a 450 page novel will fry your brain.
Dan Wells described Brannon Sanderson*as being more of a storyteller. Brandon is very productive and sprays out pages and pages of plot. Dan is more meticulous, picking his words and designing his sentences ‘just so’. I, for better or for worse, am a storyteller. That’s all I want to do, which makes revisions such a painful hell for me.
That was a big tangent from what I was aiming for, a simple update on my ’30 in 30’ project. Yesterday I wrote a 6k short story and it just burned out of me. It’s probably not publishable but MAN, it felt good. To write something, to finish it, to feel that flow. It’s better than…food.
I still owe three stories but we’ll see what I can get done tonight. And we’ll see if I still remember how to tell a story in less than 5k words. I can’t wait.
* (both of whom rock, check them out at www.fearfulsymmetry.com and www.brandonsanderson.com)