Writing Short Fiction.

I used to hate writing short fiction. I hated it because I wasn't very good at it.

I'm still not great, but with a little practice, my chops have improved immensely. 

Writing short fiction is an entirely different creature than writing novel-length prose. The arc is different; the structure is different; even the scope of the story itself has to be different.

Short fiction doesn't lend itself well to sweeping sagas or ensemble casts. We're looking at a more intimate kind of fiction, generally speaking, that focuses on just a couple of characters. We're looking at a kind of fiction that zooms in to a smaller scale of conflict. But that change in scale need not rob your fiction of tension and drama. People around you are going through earth-shaking dramas every day, all unnoticed to the people around them. 

Tiny earthquakes everywhere.

Not every author is well suited to short fiction from the outset. My writing style tends toward the exploratory, so I can get lost down a game trail really easily, abandoning the tight focus of short fiction and in the end having to delete thousands of words that, while they may be good, don't support the central theme/conflict/premise of the story. And I think that's key; in order to write good short fiction, you have to be willing to cut, and cut brutally. The short story is a tight ship, she doesn't take any crew that aren't strictly necessary.

I generally write in the three act, eight sequence structure, but I quickly found that this isn't the right way to think about short fiction. You have three beats in a short story; the set up, the turning point, and the conflict/resolution. You could put in a fourth or a fifth, but you run the risk at that point of losing your laser focus. Really these three are the tent poles that narrative rests on, and if you don't have them, your short story will feel meandering and pointless. 

It's been a kind of adventure, working on short fiction. It's been a process of figuring out where my limitations as a writer are and trying to work past them. Because if you don't work past those limits, you'll never grow, and growth as an author is key to getting better and better and better. And for me, personally, I want to be able to write as many things as well as I can.

I kept writing short stories even though I hated them because people (and the general consensus) kept telling me that I needed to write short stories. Our literary heroes started out writing short stories for pulps, and while that specific market is dead, the short story remains as the canape of literature; the free sample that is smaller, faster, and easier to distribute than a novel. A novel represents a significant time commitment in the mind of the consumer, and I think that creates more friction than price point. But the short story... you can read one of those in an afternoon, or on a commute.

And if someone likes your short fiction, they may be more likely to take a chance on a longer piece.

Short fiction can be distributed individually, thanks to the invention of ebooks and ereaders. I personally think this is what's going to save short fiction, and revitalize the novella. Short fiction can still be distributed as a part of an anthology. It can be challenging to get your work accepted into larger, more famous publications, but there are several small, specialty anthologies that are looking for authors with fresh and high quality work.

You can also write short stories that are related to a longer work, novella or novel length, and once readers fall in love with the world and/or characters in the shorter piece, it's easier to get them to buy in on your long form fiction.

The short story has its own artistic value. I prefer, rather than think of it as a tiny, limited kind of fiction, to think of it as specialized; some stories, some themes, some conflicts just work better in short fiction. Intimate themes often get lost in the scope of a novel length work, but are displayed to great advantage in short fiction.

When writing short stories, you can cover a lot of ground quickly. You can write one kind of short story one week and another the next. When you're writing a novel length work, you're committed to that thing for at least a month, even for fast writers. With short stories, you can try different styles and themes, and see what works for you and what doesn't. You can write about something little and crazy that would never sustain an entire novel on its own.

I'm glad I gave short fiction a second, third, and fourth chance. I think it's a wonderful kind of fiction, both for writers, for readers, and for the market.