(*the short story, according to William Faulkner.)
For the first time in a long while, I’m working on a new short story.
When I had my epiphany moment in 1996 and decided it was time to get real about this whole writing thing, I started with short stories. For a while I wrote a new one every week, as if the stories had piled up in my brain over the years and then burst forth in a rush when I finally took them seriously. They averaged 3,000 words, which still seems to me about right for a short story. They ranged over a whole list of topics, some genre and some literary. They helped me create recurring characters and taught me about pacing and editing (in a short story, you have to be ruthless: if something doesn’t advance the plot, character or atmosphere, it has to go). And the very first short story I wrote, “The Chill in the Air Wakes the Ghosts Off the Ground,” was also the very first one I sold, to a long-gone ‘zine called Gaslight: Tales of the Unsane.
(I’ll send a signed copy of your choice of my books to the first person to peg the band and song that inspired that story’s title.)
The short stories tapered off once I started writing novels. The creative challenges are similar at first glance, much the same way tennis and raquetball look similar. But each game uses completely different muscles and reflexes, and I’ve found that to be true for novels and short stories. For example, characters in a novel can be established with more subtlety and detail; a short story’s characters have to be pretty quickly sketched, which is why so many seem to be archetypes.
That said, when I do sit down to write a short story, it still tends to come quickly; I can produce a finished 3,000-word draft in about a week. This one is no exception: the first draft is 3,100 words according to the software counter. The final draft may be a bit longer or shorter, but probably by no more than 500 words either way. And since the deadline is April 15th, I have revision time, which believe me, I always need.
What’s this one about? Ghost hunting. Beyond that, I can’t really say. But I’ll definitely let you know when and if it’s available.
So how does my process compare to yours?
“I asked Ring Lardner the other day how he writes his short stories, and he said he wrote a few widely separated words or phrases on a piece of paper and then went back and filled in the spaces.” –Harold Ross