The Short of It

I recently shifted my writing efforts from the long form (novels) to focus on writing short stories. I did this for the following two reasons:

  • Craft
  • Marketing

Writing short stories are a great way to hone the various elements which make up good writing:

  • Character
  • Description
  • Voice
  • Plot
  • Setting

In addition, since short stories are, well, short it forces the writer to choose his words carefully while attuning him or her to the fact that the brevity of this form forces them to get to the action or conflict at the outset of the story and to have their characters solve their predicaments in order to come to a quicker resolution.

I have to admit that prior to entering the MFA program at Wilkes University that I hadn’t been a big short story fan and had pretty much limited my fiction reading to novels. Short stories reminded me of my high school English classes where as both a student and eventual teacher I had to focus on the craft elements I just mentioned rather than just enjoying them on a more surface level. Don’t get me wrong, though. As a writer I need to understand and master these key properties and translate them into my own stories.

In our final MFA portfolios we had to write a self-analysis regarding what we had learned over the previous three years as well as how we planned to move forward in our post-graduate writing lives. One of the points I stressed besides my desire to become a published novelist was my intent to remain a life-long learner. I am now doing this by designing my own short stories study program and reading many of the masters of this genre such as:

  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Flannery O’Connor
  • Raymond Carver
  • John Cheever
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • George Saunders

In addition to these giants of the short form, I recently discovered and thoroughly enjoyed reading and reviewing a short story collection titled Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society by Ross Wilcox. Writing book reviews and seeing them published has been a very gratifying experience as well.

In regards to the marketing aspect of writing short stories, I have been told that getting a short story published is a good way of eliciting the attention of literary agents. Just this week I finished revising a short story which I initially wrote in graduate school titled “Stuffed Feelings,” which I then entered in the Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition. While I know it is probably a long-shot in my winning this contest, it still felt good to send a story off into the literary universe. I plan to write several more short stories and to submit them to additional magazines and literary journals. After I grow more proficient at this genre, I will then return to the long form and attempt to apply what I have learned from short stories to my novels in progress. And I do feel like I am progressing and improving my writing by continuing to study and learn from all of the great writers whom I have mentioned.

PS: For next week’s blog I plan to post my short story “Stuffed Feelings” and hope you will indulge me by reading it.