Happy Saturday and howdy.
We’re back to short stories after a break to talk about writing spaces for last week’s Genreality theme.
Two weeks ago I launched into my series on writing short stories here. I have no idea how long we’ll go but I’ve already gotten some questions in. I’ll answer them as I progress through the various parts so please continue putting them into the comments. Also, if there’s a story of mine you’d like me to dissect as we go through this, post that too. I’ve already had some suggestions.
Last time, we talked about the why of it. Now, let’s define what it is exactly we mean by short story. And as always, your mileage may vary. I’m giving you my thoughts — picked up over the course of my writing life. There are lots of other thoughts out there.
So what do I mean by short story? (And forthwith we answer our first question). Most of the places that speak to word counts for different types of fiction agree that short stories are stories of 7,500 words or less. Between there and about 17,500 is the realm of the novelette and then so on….
This is my favorite definition of what a short story is:
A person readers can care about…in a place readers sense is real… faces a problem readers can identify with…and — win or lose — is changed as a result of the encounter.
There are lots of definitions out there. I also like this one. Entire books written on this so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the subject.
Beyond definitions, I think it’s important to be familiar with short stories themselves. And the best way to do that is to read a bunch of them. Read a good sampling of the ones in the genre you want to write. Read them in the magazines or anthologies you’d like to be published in. Read a good sampling of classic short stories. And another batch of short stories outside your genre and — if you can do it — outside your normal areas of interest.
Here are some that I’ve enjoyed:
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut.
“A Clean, Well Lighted Place” by Ernest Hemingway
“Repent, Harlequin, Said the Tick-Tock Man” by Harlan Ellison
“The Ugly Chickens” by Howard Waldrop (though it may be a novelette…I’m not sure.)
“Snapshots I Brought Back from the Black Hole” by K.C. Ball.
“Wine Cask Bellies and Owl Wings” by Liz Coleman
I could list many more but this is a good starting place if you’ve not read much short fiction. And did you see how I managed to avoid falling into the pit of shameless self-promotion by slipping one of my own stories into that list?
I also recommend a Saturday in the library to peruse some issues of Asimov’s and F&SF, dig through some anthologies or collections of authors you love. And don’t forget to look at some of those stories you’d normally never read.
As you surf the stories, look for the ways the writer makes you care about the character, how they unfold a setting to you (including supporting cast) that helps your suspension of disbelief and a problem that engages you. See how they resolve the conflict and/or change the character at the end.
And next week, we’ll start jumping in. We’ll talk about the first bit about seeing ideas and finding stories all around you.
Trailer Boy out.