After writing my second novel, a year and a half passed without me writing a single short story. I was busy bettering my novel skills, learning how to really expand my work and sink into the details. I spent most of my time learning about structure and plot. There was no time to write short stories anymore and I didn’t want to. I liked the long-form I was working on. I was better at it.
Short stories were where I started. It’s where a lot of us start. Short stories are built for teaching. They are short enough that we can easily see a story’s plot, theme, and character development. They are easier to edit and good to practice specific skills like setting, dialogue, etc. Short stories allow us to focus on word choice whereas novels force us to reckon with a story at 25,000 feet. Sometimes, it’s easier for me to see at 25,000 feet. I’ve never been a details person. Short stories are details. They are precision and care. Novels are allowed to be sloppy, at parts.
After finishing the first draft of my novel The Harvest for this grant award, I wanted to work on something different for a week or two, to give myself a break from the novel and stretch muscles I hadn’t worked in a while. I was tired of nonfiction essays. So, I started a short story.
“I forgot how to write short stories,” I’d told my CP mentor, Sheree, only a week or so earlier. And it’s true. When I first started the short story, my scenes ran long. My skills were rusty – I was trying too hard. I was focusing on too many small details. I needed to get the plot moving faster. I would have to write long and edit it shorter.
As I got deeper into the story, I stopped thinking so much and things started coming together. Unlike novels, I usually start a short story with just an image, not a full blown outline. For this story, I started with the image of a lighthouse and went from there. The accompanying details came pretty quickly – an island pre-winter, foxes, mussels, photography. I ended up with a story about having to leave places and give up things we love, which I guess are things I write about often, but its so interesting to see them shoved into a few short pages. They are starker that way. Not always more impactful, but cleaner.
Sheree is reading my short story now, and I’m curious to see her feedback about things I may not have thought about the first go around. Either way, these last two weeks were a nice break from about two years of strict novel and essay writing.