Sunday, January 01, 2006

Coming up short

This is a bit more my style of New Year's greeting. Sound on for it.

Well, we're officially into the first month of the new year. If I behave myself, I'll actually buckle down and start working on some short stories. Yeah, it could happen.

I have a terrible time writing short stories. My mind always goes to the subplots. Short stories require a narrow focus on main main theme, limited numbers of characters so that the story is cohesive. But when I work on a manuscript I can explore every character on the stage to whatever depth is necessary for the story, and I love that. I love it when I get 2/5 of the way through a manuscript and discover something about a character that I didn't know. My subconscious working ahead of me. And all of a sudden things are clicking into place and I can see where the story is going. For the next little bit, anyway. Not being a meticulous plotter.

Yep, I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl. I act on whims and impulses and then usually my gut twists into knots while I wonder if I did the right thing. That's life, but when it comes to writing it's a grand adventure.

But this month, I'm going to try to finish The Butcher, which has only been loitering around for 14 months now. Restoration lingered for a solid 12 before I had to finish it. And I mean I didn't look at it for 12 months. Wrote it. Worked on it. Hit a brick wall. Dropped it and then went back a year later and changed it entirely. I think it's a better story. I wrote the initial Write to Kill around the same time as the other two, and I think Restoration marks an improvement in my writing. I hope so. I just hope that the rush edit didn't overlook any glaring errors.

So, if I behave, I'll finish The Butcher and a few other stories I have in mind. Then I'll need to find places to submit them to. But I'll worry about that later. Right now, it's just the writing. I look at stories like Herbert in Motion and The Consolation Blonde and The Game of Dog and Into DarknessI try to find the secrets - what makes those short stories stand out so much in my mind. And non-mystery stories like Jessie's Toothbrush, which still makes me chuckle. And James Oswald's story Job, which has lingered in my brain since I first read it. A very Spinetinglery kind of story I wish we could have published.

I wonder what it is you guy find compelling about short stories. I read and evaluate tons of them, but I think the key factors of the story that make it or break it remain a bit elusive to me. I love the first paragraph of Herbert in Motion - classic show not tell writing at its best. And the concept behind Val McDermid's Consolation Blonde is classic. I won't say anything about that other story mentioned so that nobody's head swells, but The Game of Dog has to be my favourite short story. Maybe it's because I like Pascoe more than Dalziel. Or maybe it's the subtlety of it. I don't know.

I guess short stories are a bit like websites for me. I can't always explain what I look for, but I know what I like when I see it. Here's hoping I can muster something up this month that I actually think has potential.

And if not, there's always February...


JamesO said...

You're too kind, Sandra. Thank you.

I don't write nearly enough short stories - they're way too much hard work. But when I do, I always try come up with something that stays with you once the initial short flurry of reading is over. It's all too easy to read a shorty, enjoy it and forget it. Ideally I'd like for my readers to be going about their daily lives and then suddenly stop and maybe shudder, or say 'bloody hell' out loud (startling whoever might be nearby) because they've just thought about the story in a different way. Certainly those are the shorties I most like to read. Once that stick with you like a bad smell.

I'm working my way through the back-issues of Spinetingler and enjoying it immensely (although I have to stop from time to time and do some real work). Perhaps I'd better dust off my shorty-writing pen and try to come up with something to submit.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks writing short stories is such hard work!

Really, I just call 'em like I see 'em. Well, except that I rarely go on record naming something I hate, not when it comes to books or writing. I'm much more interested in applauding the good. And while there's a place for being amused and being entertained, I do want to read stories that make me think. Ones that make me shudder out of the blue when I'm sitting at my desk working on something.

Maybe that's what I like about The Game of Dog. Did the guy get away with the perfect crime?

M. G. Tarquini said...

They are hard work. And I can never figure where to market them. I do them to clear the cobwebs sometimes, but I'm obsessive, writing and rewriting. In short stories every word must shine, not so much leeway as with a novel.

Jeez, there's a long word verification here today. Too many letters. I have to do it again.