Sunday, February 19, 2012

Short stories

I posted this on facebook:
I have been writing novelettes for a long time and am now trying to pull my length down to 7,500 words. It is really hard. The story I just finished seems incomplete to me. My experience of short stories -- this is a huge generalization -- is they tend to be folk tales or vignettes or gimmick stories, O'Henry stories. Boy, is that a huge generalization. I will reframe it, I can write short stories that are vignettes, gimmick stories or folk tales. To write a story that feels rich, I have to go longer. But many SF writers can write wonderful, rich short stories.

I'm being unfair when I talk about "gimmick" stories. What I mean is stories that focus on an idea or the plot. SF writers and readers love neat idea stories, as do I, though I don't usually write them, and our pulp history makes stories that rely on action and plot appealing.

It's really hard to get an idea, a plot and the qualities of a vignette -- mood, detail and character -- into a story that is less than 7,500 words. Something has to go. In some stories, it's character or detail, which leaves room for the idea or the plot.

In the story I just finished, I was tempted to put a plot twist in -- a dark, ironic ending -- because it would make for a tighter story. But Patrick did not like the idea, nor did I, after thinking. The need to close the story at 7,500 words was pushing me toward a kind of O'Henry ending. Instead, the story ends indeterminately, as does much of life. If I'd had more time and more words, I think I could have come up with a better ending.

I think I'm going to have to go back to the story and make the ending clear by having the narrator say -- in so many words -- "I don't know what this means. Sometimes things just happen."

I like writing stories that are 12,000 words or thereabouts. They have room for some of the richness of a novel, but they end before I and the reader get bored.

However, I have sent out six stories in the past year or so. The two that have sold are at or under 7,500 words. The other four -- all novelettes -- sit at magazines. I keep imaging the editors saying, "I like it, but it's so damn long."


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