Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Unexpected: Short Story as Prep

I’m a big advocate of the need to work both short and long.  Novels take time to write, polish, edit, publish; in between times, it’s helpful to keep your name out there with short stories, whether it’s an anthology, a literary journal, or a free download on your book’s website.  The more versatile you are, the more opportunities are open to you.

I find that short stories don’t distract from the novels, or “take time away” from them.  Instead, they fuel my longer writer.  The very aspects that make a short story work -- focus, conflict, dynamic, short word count -- can be applied to sections of longer work, to make each section stronger, and the novel, overall, better.

Another great use for the short format is to test drive characters and ideas that might also work, or work better, in a longer format.  Sometimes, of course, it’s frustrating.  I wanted to answer an anthology call for a short steampunk story -- turns out that particular story needs to be at least novella length.  I’m thrilled with the creative discovery, but I’m not going to be able to pull together something in time for this particular anthology’s deadline.

Unexpectedly, I got sent into a new direction just a couple of weeks ago.  I’ve been teaching a year-long writing intensive for the past year -- from idea through first draft through edits through Trusted Readers through submission packets, starting a second novel, and a smattering of short stories throughout.  Did I mention the INTENSE part of “intensive”?

I’ve been writing along with the students (they can learn from my mistakes as well as from what I’m doing properly).  We just worked on the final short story of the year (the year ends Aug. 31).  I’d tried several different short stories -- the parameters were 1000-2500 words, in a genre not worked in during the year.  In other words, a stretch.  The novel is urban fantasy; my previous stories for class were urban fantasy, adult contemporary, mystery, and sci-fi mystery. 

I played with several different premises.  People kept getting killed off or turning into shapeshifters or whatever.  I wasn’t in the mood for romantic comedy.  Finally, I settled on historical -- I’m prepping to do a mystery set historically here on the Cape, and I thought I could access some of that research.

I wound up doing a piece about a female aviator in 1947.  You guessed it -- too much story for the confines of the exercise.  I got out the red machete and cut, cut, cut, cut, cut.  I wound up cutting too much, and not filling in the logistical holes appropriately.

HOWEVER -- not only do I feel on fire with the piece, but everyone else loved the bones of it, too. We all saw the same problems with it.  But there was a sense that there’s something really special here.

What am I doing?  Getting as many books, journals, diaries, newspapers accounts that are relevant as possible.  Making notes, outlining.  For the purpose’s of the rewrite of the STORY -- due today, by the way -- I’m taking the first scene and turning it into a stand-alone short story.  How will it wind up in the novel?  Probably quite differently.  But taking the first scene, the initial “falling in love” moments I had with the piece and making them stand on their own gives me the chance to mine some of my primary characters and find out vital information I need in order for them to sustain a novel.

I’m in love again with my work.  And it feels great.

--Annabel Aidan publishes under half a dozen names in fiction and non-fiction.  Her romantic suspense novel with Champagne is ASSUMPTION OF RIGHT.  A new short story featuring protagonist Morag and her coven will be available for free download later this summer.


Rachel Schieffelbein said...

I think you are right about short stories fueling our writing. I just recently got into writing short stories (so I'm still learning a lot) but it is rewarding and does boost my creativity for when I go back to my other WIP.

Big Mike said...

I do the same. Between each pair of novels I write a short. Gives be a mental break from the drain in creating a 90K word novel. Plus twice once I got into the story I've liked it so much I converted it into a novel.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2011)

T. M. Hunter said...

Like you all, I write short stories to get myself out there (via publication) between novels, to keep my mind sharp with the mental breaks, and to test out new things. Great stuff!

Evonna said...

Shorts help with my need to see something completed too. They really do help fuel the creativity.

linda_rettstatt said...

Once while on vacation, I decided to do a writing exercise on description while watching the sun rise over Penobscot Bay in Maine. That exerecise beceame a full novel. Now I'm experimenting with novellas in between writing novels. Keeps the creative juices flowing.

January Bain said...

So true! I recently wrote a short story that will now be a long one!

Suzanne said...

Great post! I often wonder if writing shorts is taking time away from novel length, but you are so right, it can inspire and gives me a chance to test drive a character and or technique.