Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Long And The Short Of It

by: Joelle Charbonneau

When I was asked to join the DSD gang (and for those keeping score - they haven't revoked my membership card yet, so I guess it is okay to use boob references), I was also presented with an interesting opportunity. The group asked me to contribute a short airport fiction piece to be included in the upcoming DSD collection, Terminal Damage. Yikes! Short fiction!! A friend of mind who had been bugging me to write some short fiction was delighted. I was terrified.

Yeah, I know. I write 80,000 or more word novels....300 plus pages. So, why the angst?

Well, first of all, I don't read a lot of short fiction. (This is where I duck while all of you throw decomposing vegetables.) It's not that I dislike short fiction. I don't. In fact, I like short fiction. The problem is that when I get to the end of great works of short fiction I'm disappointed that the story is over. If I like the characters, I want the ride to last a lot longer. So, I tend to read novels more than short stories. I'm just weird that way.

Second, while I might not be as well-read in short fiction as my DSD counterparts, I've read enough short fiction to know that it takes a specific skill set. In 3000-6000 words (sometimes less as in the flash fiction challenge Jay just threw down) you have to capture your audience, give them characters to identify with and create a compelling plot that ties up by the end in a satisfying way. Not an easy feat. In fact, it's damn hard. So hard that when months ago a friend suggested I give the short fiction thing a whack, I made lots of excuses not to do it. I was busy finishing book three. I had Christmas presents to buy. The dog scarfed down my computer.

However, when presented with the unexpected challenge by the DSD boys, I wasn't about to let my respectful fear of the genre stop me. That would be, well, girly of me. So, I put on my big girl pants, opened up my computer and gave it a go. And yes....had a blast doing it. I'm glad that I didn't let fear keep me cowering under the bed next to my cat...oops...did I say the dog ate the computer? Oh well. The point is, in the months and years ahead, I plan on taking this genre out for a few more rides and hopefully improve my abilities to conceive short and concise, yet interesting and entertaining stories. But I'm going to need some help. Before I take the plunge again, I need to do some reading. Feel free to point clueless, yet earnest, me in the right direction. Who are your favorite short story writers, magazines and anthologies? What are the stories you love and that I need to read to show me how this genre is supposed to be done? (Feel free to plug yourself or shamelessly flatter my DSD friends.)

And to all you writers out there - do you like writing short stories? If so, why? And what challenges do you find while writing in this abbreviated genre?


Judith Keim said...

Hi, Joelle! Interesting blog. I've had two short stories published - One in Chicken Soup to Inspire a Woman's Soul and one in Belle Books' Mossy Creek series-A summer in Mossy Creek. I liked writing them, pulling thoughts together in a more succinct way. There are always challenges to writing...short, long and in-between! LOL

Steve Weddle said...

Short fiction also allows you to look at the edges of a longer work, like seeing grandpa from SKATING AROUND THE LAW make his way through the airport.

Also from a writer's perspective, it's nice to work out some shorter stuff that you can put into a longer piece at some point. I've been in quite a few flash challenges recently and have used those opportunities to develop a new character.

As for reading shorts, I find that a nice break between novels. Read some Chercover. Then the day I finish that, I can read a short story by Scott Wolven or ThugLit or Plots with Guns or something by Hilary Davidson or something from one of those best American books.

Great post. Tons to think about.

Unknown said...

I've written a little over fifty short stories in the past three years (along with 1 and 3/4 novels,a novella, 20 or so reviews and interviews. Yeah toot-toot, that's my own horn.)and I'd have to say the biggest challenge I've faced is meeting or exceeding word count. (I always go over, no matter what.)and I love writing short stories! They're kind of like eating donuts for dinner--instant gratification!

And Joelle, I'd love to see you churn out some short fiction, especially if it's hard as nails noir.
(a cozy writer's take on hardboiled is typically twice as scary as some one who writes the genre, so I get the feeling you'd be spilling buckets of blood.)

Anonymous said...

Greetings Joelle and DSD crew,

The name TERMINAL DAMAGE is supremely awesome!

One could argue that my first drafts of novels = short fiction.

Good sources for short fiction:

The New Yorker (yeah, I know, duh)
The Strand
Any collection by Alice Munro
Anything by the DSD crew

Deb G.

Barbara Monajem said...

I don't read many short stories... I prefer anthologies with four or five novellas, because the stories are long enough to really enjoy the characters, but short enough that I won't get bored.

However, I do seek out short stories by my favorite authors. One I remember absolutely loving was by Alaska author John Straley, one of my all-time favorite mystery writers. I wanted to give the title here, but I can't find my copy of the book...

I really enjoyed writing a Harlequin Undone (and I'm starting another) because they're long short stories - 10 to 15 K words. It's a fun length, and closure comes quickly.

Chris said...

I always thought I didn't care for short fiction much either, then I realized that a lot of the booksf I grew up reading -- particularly Robert E. Howard's stuff -- were really just collections of short stories. That made me rethink it. While I struggle with short story collections from a single author (f.e. Raymond Carver is undeniably a great writer, but too many of his stories in succession start to seem too similar to me), I do love a good anthology. And I do like to divert my attentions during the day with the online short story places.

Writing short fiction is really hard for me, though. I don't think I'm that good at it, but it's good practice. Especially for writing tight sentences, eliminating unnecessary words, etc. That improves my longer fiction, I think. I hope.

Dana King said...

From what I know of your "peers" at DSD, they will no problem with boob references. They likely encourage that sort of thing.

Short stories are an awkward length for me. Flash is a single thought, in and out. Novels allow me to explore side issues and additional character influences. Shorts require more of a story than flash, but too much more and a novel opens up before me. I'm never sure when they're done enough.

Yasmine Phoenix said...

Yasmine here. I wish I could write short stories. It seems I can't, but I love reading it and it makes me jealous that a writer can write a complete story within a short word count. They get the characters, plot and dialogue down in fewest pages and maintain reader interest.
Glad to read your post.

John McFetridge said...

Short stories are tough. I went through a period where I read a lot of short stories, though not really crime short stories, mostlythose "Best American Short Stories of 19___."

And you know, most Canadian literature is short story - Alice Munro's never even written a novel.

In some ways the crime genre seems to lend itself perfectly to the short story because a lot of real crimes aren't really that complicated. And a TV show is basically a short story so we're used to seeing crime stories in that way. The Ed McBain collecion Learning to Kill is excellent.

But for some reason it's really in the flash fiction where crime stories seem to work best.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Short stories are the same as synopsis writing for me- ugly, ugly, ugly. :)
But Grandpa's story is fab so you go girl! Cheers~

Mary Ricksen said...

I will read anything! I'm reading addicted and there is nothing I can do to stop it. It's one book after another, anything that I like and can grab!
Short, long, anything!
I have a bad case of RA.

Josie said...

Hi Joelle,
Like Barbara, I also enjoyed writing my Harlequin Historical undone. I thought 10,000 words wold be easy to manage after writing my 80,000 word novels, but short fiction offers a new set of challenges.

Mona Risk said...

Hi Joelle, I never wrote very short stories. Several 50,000 wc but nothing less. I rarely read them, unless written by friends. It must an interesting exprience.

Autumn Jordon said...

I really admire those who can write short. It is hard. I have one short published in the Cuo Of Comfort books. It was a challenge to get all the elements packed while meeting word count.

I noted some of the suggestions recommended here.

Good luck with the story.


Mary Marvella said...

Hey, there Joelle. Interesting post.

At one time I attended a yearly workshop that included contests, so I entered beginnings of new novels or wild hair ideas in the fiction categories. When I had at least six more stories than I could ever write long, it finally hit me that I should try writing short stories. Now I have 4 but have done nothing with them. Writing them was fun, actually.

Scarlet Pumpernickel said...

Joelle, good for you! Glad you took up the challenge and jumped into the frey. I've had two short stories published one in Modern Romance and One in a newspaper. I enjoyed writing them, but found it more of a challenge to pack everything into the shorter length. Enjoyed your blog, made me think about writing another short story.

chudleycannonfodder said...

I'm going to have to throw a vote in for "Closure", by Dave White. Yeah, yeah, you've probably read it, but it's a great example of how much drama and emotion can fit into a small word count.

(Note: Dave White didn't bribe me to mention this.)