I ran across this post via FB. Becca and Angela’s blog is a great resource for writers, kinda like their thesauruses (thesauri?). It got me thinking (I know, dangerous territory!)
I’ve been intending to write a short story or two to submit to various anthologies. Problem is, I can’t seem to kick off a draft. I’ve written short stories before; my very first published works were short stories (and I even got paid real money for one of them (as opposed to contributor copies)).
Then I turned to noveling, which is a different sort of animal. With a novel, you have 90,000 words, give or take, to tell a story from beginning to end. You have 90k words to develop characters a reader will connect with and care about. You have 90k words for an inciting incident, midpoint crisis, and climax, with all the room between them to build a story.
It’s like having a 3k square-foot house in which to organize your belongings (and accumulate more, because all that space!). You can arrange an entertainment space, have a big kitchen, and even a walk-in closet. It’s big enough to stretch out and relax.
Writing a short story seems like a one-bedroom apartment in comparison. You have just enough space to plant the essentials, with no room for your vast collection of Beanie Babies, or Transformers action figures, or fully-assembled and framed puzzles. You have a bedroom, living room, and kitchen, but there’s a limit to how many friends you can invite over at the same time before you run out of space.
Going from noveling to writing a short story feels like moving out of a house into an apartment. It’s your same life, but what do you keep and what do you give to Goodwill (or a dumpster)?
When moving into a house, you can plan the paint scheme, wall decor, furniture, even the color theme of each room. In an apartment, you have limits, including being unable to change the color of the carpeting or the kitchen appliances. If the apartment has daffodil-yellow countertops or beach-sand tan linoleum, well, that’s what you work with.
For the past decade or more (I’m not going to tell how much more 🙂 ), I’ve spent time planning my novels before I write them. I usually know how they begin (inciting incident) and how they (should) end (climax). (We will leave my current WIP out of the comparison, because, well, I don’t want to talk about it.)
Since I decided I needed to write at least one short story, I’ve hit a mental block. Plotting a short story? I’ve only got 5k words or so, maybe up to 10k words, to go from inciting incident to climax. It’s not enough space.
I know I can do it because I’ve done it before, but how? It’s almost like the play-by-ear child prodigy who goes to college to study music, learns how to read sheet music, and loses the ability to play song requests by ear without reading notes.
So I’ve been procrastinating. I have a story in mind, which I cobbled together during my walks, but how to start? Do I just start freewriting? I could. That’s scary; will I be able to get to the inciting incident before 2k words? That gives me almost 2k to get to the midpoint, and another 2k to get to the end.
Then I read the article, and it clicked. Situational writing. Duh. That’s how I wrote my short stories. I came up with a situation, then wrote “around” it.
That’s the biggest difference, I think, between short stories and longer forms like novellas and novels. Sure, you could plot out a short story, but how much of a full-bodied plot can you squeeze into the format? Yes, you could have a super-short plot complete with inciting incident, midpoint crisis, and climax. A lot of short stories do. I suspect, though, that most short story writers just sit down and write, plot-plan not required. Think about short stories you’ve read. How many are situational, a point in time of the character’s life?
Sure, people write novels all the time without a solid plan in place. It’s called “pantsing”, or writing by the seat of your pants. My novel creation goes a lot more smoothly if I have at least some idea of what the story is or how it proceeds from beginning to end, i.e. a rough timeline/outline.
Bottom line, I have a situation in mind, I have characters, and I know how the situation ends. Now to put butt in chair and hands on keyboard (or pencil on paper, because that often helps my creative mind).
Have a great weekend, everyone! Stay cool! Stay safe! Come back next week when I give an update on my weeds–erm, I mean, my garden 😀