Writing short fiction is definitely my comfort zone. Years ago I started out writing song lyrics, ad copy, and jokes. These, like short fiction, are short, so when I tried short fiction, I was right at home.
The following are my thoughts on writing short fiction. I shall use Andrea Pearson’s prompt questions as a guide.
- What are the steps – to you – in writing good short fiction?
The main concept behind short fiction is make a long story short. The fewer steps involved, the better. I usually think of my story’s ending first. Of course, a lot of novelists do this as well. But unlike a novelist, I want to take the quickest route to that ending. One way to do that is to make the ending the focus of the story. The beginning and middle are just the means to that ending.
When you’re writing the short story, pretend that your readers are extremely busy and extremely impatient. They will only allow you a few seconds to grab their interest. Consider yourself lucky if you can keep their interest for more than five minutes. In short, pretend you are writing an advertisement. How many people like long ads? None! The same is true for jokes and song lyrics. Imagine a joke that is 200 pages long before it reaches the punchline. Not a pretty sight!
So your steps might be 1) Quick hook or setup, 2) Skim through the middle (or cut it out if your ending won’t suffer), 3) Hit the reader with your cool ending, punchline or bottom line. Always remember that step 3 is the most important. It is the reason the impatient reader is reading your short story.
- What exactly is short fiction? (Length, etc.)
In track and field, there are sprinters and there are long-distance runners. Short story writers are sprinters, and short fiction is the 100-meter dash (50-10,000 words). The novelist, by contrast, is the long-distance runner, and the novel is the marathon (over 40,000 words).
The same story can often be told as a short story or in a novel. Short fiction is the disapline of communicating as much information with the fewest words possible. By contrast, a novelist tries to stretch out the story without losing the reader’s interest.
- Do you feel this is an inborn talent for people, or something that can be achieved through practice and hard work?
I feel it’s a combination of talent, practice and hard work. I’ve heard writers complain that short fiction is difficult, but for me, holding a reader’s interest for 200 to 1000 pages seems like a daunting task.
Again, some of us are natural sprinters and some are natural long-distance runners–but hard work and determination can make any novelist a short-fiction writer.
- Have you seen short fiction translate successfully to the big screen?
If memory serves, Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” was a short story that made an excellent action-adventure film. Interestingly enough, screenplays are about the same length as most short fiction, so I would imagine that any short story could easily be translated into a screenplay.
- What is your favorite piece of short fiction? Why?
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe. It has all the intensity, suspense and drama you will find in a thriller novel, but you can read it in one sitting–that leaves you time to play golf.
- Who is your favorite short fiction author? Why?
O. Henry! I love his twisted endings!
- What makes good short fiction?
If it is not too long, it’s good short fiction.
- What is the most difficult part of writing in this genre?
Cutting all those scenes you are hopelessly in love with, but do nothing to move the plot forward.
- The easiest part?
Not having to fill hundreds of pages with more words than you really need.
This weeks challenge:
Let’s focus on short fiction.
You have until Thursday, August 30, 2012 at midnight to write and post, and it can be in any format.
I will read, comment on, and feature your responses a week from today.
* Have your title say FWE or Friday Writing Essential, and have the initials “LFSF” (Let’s Focus on Short Fiction) in it.
* Make sure to post to the Writing Essential Group.
* Put FWE or Friday Writing Essentials and the initials “LFSF” in your tags. (I won’t find your post without these tags.)
Have a great week!