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Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

Today you are reading one of my (relatively) rare writing posts, in which I am mostly going to share intelligent things that other people have said about writing. I admit that I am somewhat motivated by the selfish reason of wanting these articles available in the future for my own easy reference. But I’m also motivated because I’ve been thinking more about short stories lately because I’m critiquing three of them for WorldCon’s writing workshop, which takes place later this week.

First off, Goodreads did a survey on why people stop reading books. I’m fascinated by how many people don’t stop reading in the middle of a book because “as a rule, I like to finish things”: 36.6%! I’m so interested because I stop reading books all the time. I always have so many books in queue that I either should read or want to read that I’ll stop for any number of reasons: I’m not in the right mood, there’s another book I want to read more, the book doesn’t grab me, I can tell it’s not to my taste, etc.

But probably the most interesting number from that survey is that the single biggest reason why people stop reading a novel is because they find it BORING. From what I’ve heard, this is also one of the biggest reasons why slush readers stop reading novels and stories. So if you’re a writer, wanting to learn how to not be boring is a legitimate concern.

Photo Credit: Esellee via Compfight cc

Rahul Kanakia, otherwise known as my favorite blogger, shares some thoughts about the difference between short stories and novels in the boredom department. Rahul was a slush reader for Strange Horizons and now teaches writing to unsuspecting undergrad students at John Hopkins, so he knows that of which he speaks. He talks about having the “So what?” reaction to short stories, which is one I often have as well, and how to work towards inspiring a stronger reaction.

(Incidentally, it’s really interesting to think about the different things that a reader tends to want from a short story vs. from a novel. There definitely seem to be things you can get away with more easily in a novel than a short story, and vice versa.)

Ann Leckie, who edits GigaNotoSaurus, among other things, writes about a problem she often sees in her slush pile: namely, that much of the work she reads is not very original and involve ideas that haven’t been thought all the way through. Which results in what exactly? You guessed it: BORING stories.

Finally, I think anyone involved in narrative storytelling should check out this article, which I first read more than three years ago and still refer back to. (I expect to be referring back to it thirty years from now.) James Van Pelt wrote an outline of a talk he was going to give about writing a great ending. I am such a stickler for stories and novels landing the ending, and this blog post is the best discussion of how to achieve this that I’ve come across so far.

Have you stumbled across any great writing resources or articles lately? Been thinking about any aspect of writing in particular? Feel free to share in the comments!

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When I decided a few years ago that I was going to get serious about my writing, I knew I was going to be writing novels. Novels were, after all, the bulk of what I read. I sat down and wrote a novel to prove to myself that I was capable of doing it.

That’s when I actually became serious about writing. I knew I had the discipline, I knew writing was something I enjoyed and found satisfying. And I fell in with a genre critique group and said to myself, “Oh, I’m supposed to be writing short stories too. Sure, I’ll give it a try. After the novel, how hard could it be?”

Cue the laugh track. Yes, I was being stupid, but I figured out my own stupidity soon enough. I wrote a short story, and it was very hard. So much worldbuilding for so small a project! It drove me nuts. And then I had to rewrite the story, and rewrite the story, and it didn’t matter how much I rewrote this stupid story, because it was never going to work.

Over the course of the next year, I wrote more stories (although perhaps not as many as I should have). At some point I got the bright idea that I should also be reading short stories. (I know. Genius at work here.) That entire year, I hated writing short stories. I actively disliked it. I wasn’t even sure why I was doing it (probably stubbornness). I told myself that short stories didn’t matter anyway, because obviously I was meant to write novels.

Then I finally worked on a story that I enjoyed writing (probably not coincidentally, the one I just sold). I thought to myself, “Maybe short stories aren’t so bad. I mean, they’re annoying, but they have their good points.” I wrote more short stories.

Yesterday I found myself thinking, “You know, even if I got a book deal right now,” — for the record, this is impossible as I have nothing out on submission, but a girl likes to dream — “I’d still want to keep writing short stories.” I stopped and realized what I had just said, and shook my head at myself.

Why am I telling you this rather long story? Because so often we pigeonhole ourselves. Sometimes this can be useful to keep focus and make sure we’re prioritizing our goals, but sometimes we accidentally limit ourselves instead.

It’s especially easy to limit ourselves when we start something new and, surprise surprise, we’re not very good at it. It’s so easy to say, “I don’t like this anyway” or “This is too hard” or “I’m going to do shiny thing z instead.” I’ve seen this over and over as a music teacher. A lot of students thought they wanted to learn how to sing, but once they realized that singing is difficult, that it requires hard work and practice and dedication and failure, many of them would drop out. (Especially adults. It always seemed especially surprising to the adults.) A lot of my children students didn’t enjoy practicing the piano because it was hard and they weren’t very good. If they stuck with it for awhile, though, and were able to pass a certain threshold of competence, all of a sudden playing the piano became much more pleasurable.

I think a lot of pursuits are like this. When we’re starting out and don’t have many skills, it kind of sucks. But then as we start to improve, it gets more and more interesting and exciting. Remembering this helps us keep trying when we’re still in the stage of unpleasantness.

Has anyone else had an experience like mine? Care to share?

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