Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Art of Short Stories

I haven't mentioned this before, but I am doing this little college course thingy in creative writing on the side, you know, in my spare time in between playing with the dog, raising my boys, blogging, writing and generally having a life.

Due to the increasing number of things that demand my attention and my bottomless pit of excuses I have a back log of assignments to submit. But look at the photo, some of these distractions are so darn cute!
These assignments really have no due date because I have two years to complete the course. The idea being that you just move along at your own pace and submit work when you are ready. Yeah... that's not working so well for me. I work better with deadlines, goals and ....a lack of procrastination.

College assignment? What college assignment?
I wonder if I'd have completed my degree in education if the university I went to lacked time restrictions or submission deadlines?
Actually, I probably would. I can be tenacious when I want something. I guess that's why I am finally trying to finish these assignments.

Here's the road block; I have to write a short story. I know, I know. It's no big deal. I write. In fact I have written in excess of 200,000 words between the two books I am working on, if you count the words that didn't make it through the edits. But I'd rather submit the profile piece I recently wrote for a magazine or perhaps thetongue in cheek parenting story or my mindless humor piece on raising toddlers... but DON'T MAKE ME WRITE A SHORT STORY!

Every time I sit down to write the damn thing I think of another great idea for an article that just begs to be written. After I have reworked the article and submitted it for publication and sometimes have the joy of hearing that it will be printed, I get back to the writing course... "Now, what was I suppose to be doing here again?"

I'm getting no where. Except for the fact that article ideas like to hound me while I am trying to write short stories... which is great... and not so great. I'd like to finish the course. Eventually.
The other teeny little road block is my perfectionism. I have never received anything less than a distinction for this course (yeah, I have managed to submit about six assingments so far) and the thought of bombing out with a crappy short story sends shivers up my spine and makes my fingers feel like lead on the keyboard.
I sit in front of my computer watching the little cursor flash...and... I got nothin'

I am beginning to think this writing gig is not for me. *sigh dramatically*
How can I have no problems writing a 96 000 word memoir, which is really literary non-fiction in form and full of 'characters', but I can't put fingers to keyboard and type a out one damn short story?

Maybe I feel more comfortable writing non-fiction?
I heard this quote the other day which said, "I write to know what I think."
That's me. That is SO me. I can hash something around in my head for days, but not know what's bugging me until I sit down to flesh it out with words. Maybe I just haven't transferred this skill to the art of short stories?

But the ridiculous thing is that so far in this course I have written a couple of short stories. I wrote one called Crawling, but it was heavily based on an actual event. I wrote two others that had to consist mainly of dialogue (which is an interesting little exercise to discover how well dialogue moves a story forward, reveals personality and motivation and delineates characters) Other exercises have consisted of sketches of places and characters (again easily based on my personal experiences of places and people). I can see why I have been doing well until this point. But now I am struggling to make these same skills work for me in a completely fictional short story.

So, any advice from my wonderful group of fiction writers out there?
Do you rely heavily on reality to write? Are you characters completely fictional or are they composits of several people? Where do I start? Have I just got my knickers in a knot about this whole 'short story thing? Probably...
How do you guys get started?
I just have to write 300. Teeny. Tiny. Little. WORDS!

Am I the only one with road blocks in their writing?


  1. I'm afraid I'm not much help to you Tab - I came to the conclusion a long time ago that I am strictly a non-fiction writer. Have written a couple of short stories just to try but they just didn't do it for me. My only hint is base your fiction heavily in real-life fact/experiences, that seems to help - but it sounds like you've already discovered this!

  2. I have a few ideas on a short story, but I think I may email them to you off line.

  3. Short stories are a completely different animal than novels. I've written many 400 word stories for publication, and I'm still challenged to keep each piece concise! Good luck!

  4. You can do it! Seriously, if you can write articles (which gives me the shivers) I bet you can do a great short story. :-)

  5. Hey Tabitha! I have a question...can't short stories be nonfiction? For instance, in the beginning of every school year, my students write a personal narrative. It's short, obviously, because they are in 5th grade. But isn't that still a short story? Maybe I'm completely off.

    The only way I write a short story is by sitting down and pulling words out of my behind...I honestly have no method. Sorry I can't be more helpful!!!

  6. I actually seem to do better with short stories. I lose focus as I'm writing a novel...but I'm working on that! I don't know if I'd like submitting a story to a writing professor...I'd hate being analyzed like that. I know agents and editors analyze but that's different!

  7. For me, the shorter the harder.

    One rule of thumb. It usually works for all kinds of writing issues (for ME) write for a half an hour. After that, great things come. But the half an hour is horrible.

  8. I think it was Mark Twain who once said he wrote a long letter because he did not have the time to write a short one...

    Short is tough!

    I'd suggest taking a real event and then adding a "what if" to it... that way your inspiration is grounded in reality, but you spin off from that point with a fictional "what if something ELSE had happened" storyline. Good luck!

  9. I mostly start with the kernal of an idea. Facts can be based on both real experience or pure fiction. Music is a great motivator too! Have fun with it.

  10. i have no idea how to go about short stories. i recently tried my hand at it...WAY too long. on the flip side, i got another novel idea... *sigh*

    if you figure this out, lemme know.

  11. I am sure it will come to you and it will be awesome. Dont give up on it now.

  12. Thanks Matt. I'll remind you of the same thing next time you tell me you can't think of anything to write for your e-letter.
    Jeannie- I know! why do completely different ideas pop into our heads when we are madly trying to think of just one short story idea?
    T.Anne- I like that kernal idea. And music? I'll have to play around with that.
    ckhb- I'm going to try the what if something else happened. That's great advise.
    suzanne- shorter IS harder. For sure. the half hour rule, I like that. Good things come after you say?
    Stephaine- yes, submitting to lecturers sucks. And the guy is a published author. Makes it hard to submit anything sometimes!
    Katie- good point. I think i am looking at this whole thing wrong. I just need to write and worry about what I have written after.

  13. Thanks Jessica :)
    Shelley- love your ideas. Thanks for the email. I'll see what I can do. I'd have to change names of course.. but something should be done about that first suggestion especially! You'd have to think of another name for him. I bet you could come up with a few...
    Janet- hmmm... yeah I think at the end of the day I am more comfortable with non-fiction, but it is the fiction pieces that I force myself to write that make me a better writer. It's harder for me and makes me think more about what characters are doing and saying and why. I transfer that across to the articles. I'm getting there... :) I love getting in other people's heads! Even when I write non-fiction I still need that grasp on the motivations behind what people are doing and saying. Thanks for the advice. I will focus on it when writing.

  14. I am so glad to actually have a link to your blog. When you joined mine, I tried to link to you, but there was nothing. I don't have any great advice for you because I've never written a short story. I'm getting ready to try, though, for a local magazine. If I learn anything new, I'll pass it on. If you do, please pass it on to the rest of us who have no clue! I look forward to getting to know you better!

  15. That first story you wrote about me was awesome you could use that one, I still have it... LOL