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Transitioning to Short Stories

One of my discussion groups posed the question, how do you go from writing short stories to writing novels? I know one of my friends is struggling with that right now. He has had numerous flash fiction pieces picked up, so much so that a publisher ask him to pitch them a novel idea. The problem? He can’t seem to tackle the novel. I find this interesting because I have the exact opposite problem. As I stated in an earlier post, I can write the long story no problem. In fact, sometimes publishers have told me that the word count is too high. That of course was before I entered the fantasy genre. I loved when I found publishers who began stating that large word counts did not frighten them. In a fantasy workshop, one person suggested fantasy was about the creation of worlds. This takes words, my friends, and a lot of them.

Anyway, my posting on this discussion was I don’t know how to make that particular transition. However, I have slowly begun to understand how to go the other way and write shorter pieces. I actually think my dedication to blogging these past months has helped contribute to the realization. It happened as I was preparing a sample of my writing to submit to an online program. They requested a thousand words—half the typical word count for a short story contest. As I was holding my curser and highlighting the scene, I began to realize that a thousand words ended up being about half a chapter. Then I started thinking about it. Short stories are really just chapters. They have more of a finalization than a chapter. Yet, if I think hard about it, most of the short stories I have read don’t really have a “and they lived happily ever after” finality to them. They are snap shots into the character’s life. They really are just chapters taken out of context.

With this in mind, I wrote my latest short story. Before, I would have been pressured to present a beginning, middle, and end. I would have tortured myself with the morals and character development. This is daunting. The more I thought, the more complex the story became. And, of course, the more complex the story became the more it sounded like a textbook biography rather than a riveting story in effort to reach a small word count.

The other issue that has always troubled me with short stories is that they seem to be the place to show off. Literary devices are strongly encouraged and the fluff of language is a necessity. I used to shy away from this, but have felt rejuvenated after this year of learning and reading. I still have a long way to go to reach any position to brag about my description power, but I have seen enough improvement to think I can stand the challenge. I only hope the magazine I am submitting the story to will agree.