My dream is to one day be a published Fantasy author. Novel writing is my first love. But as well as plugging away at my big, long projects, I have been trying to do some short-story writing. In particular, I have been entering the Monthly Furious Fiction competition through the Australian Writers Centre.
Every month, as I try to fit my writing into the small windows when the kids are otherwise entertained, I wonder if I would be better spending all my time on my novels. But I have found there are some real advantages to spending time writing short-stories.
They are Bite-sized
A novel is a huge undertaking. It is the marathon of writing, and sometimes it can feel like it will never end. There are times when you need a break, or something to get you excited about writing again. Short-stories play that role for me.
Story-stories are bite-sized. There is something rather fun about sitting down for a weekend and churning out a first draft of a story in a few days.
I also tend to be the kind of writer who has more ideas than time. Short-stories are a great way to take an idea, a question or a concept and turn it into something that can be polished and potentially read in very little time. I don’t need to put-aside my WIP or spend two years working, to see it come to life.
They can be Topical
Last year I wrote a story which involves an invention that allowed women to go out at night safely. It grew out of my own love of walking at night, and my frustration that as a woman, this was a risky undertaking.
Cue this month, and suddenly, for heart-breaking reasons, this topic is extremely relevant. It seems like it might be the right time to polish that story and send it out again.
But even if I didn’t have that story, because short-stories are not year-long projects, when an issue comes out in society that sparks a story idea, you can write it, edit it, and get it out in competitions and journal slush piles quickly. If successful, it can be printed within a year of when it is written. If I wrote a novel which touched on a topic in the news, even if I managed to find a publisher for it right away, there would still be a long process from writing to having it in people’s hands. And by then, the time of relevance might have passed.
It improves my Novel writing
Beautiful prose is not my natural strong-point. I love plots and character and dialogue, and I tend to imagine the events of my story like film scenes. The scenes come easily, but the hard work is taking those images from my head and converting them into words that vividly paint those pictures onto the page.
But in short-stories, every word counts. I sit with my 500, 1000, or 3000 words and I comb over my word choices with a precision that a lengthy novel just can’t afford. I work hard to make the words sing, because in a story with minimal time for events or dialogue, the music of the prose is what makes the story come alive.
Every time I write a short-story, I find that my subsequent novel writing is sharper and clearer. Short-stories help me to practice a type of writing that doesn’t come easy to me, so that when I sit down to write my novel, my short-story style rubs off.
One of the hardest things about writing a novel is having to wait until it’s finished to know what it is like. I have had feedback on scenes, and had people look at the plot outline, but it takes lots of work to get to a point where people can read the whole novel. And by the time you have put all that effort in, it feels extra stressful to hand it across for feedback.
But short-stories are a shorter time investment, both for the writer and for those who are reading for feedback. So the feedback comes quicker, and is less painful if the story doesn’t work. I learn from my mistakes almost as soon as I’ve made them. And so my writing keeps improving, in the short form and in the long.
At the start of the year, I began to enter a competition through the Australian Writer’s Centre called Furious Fiction. Each month, I would be sent out some parameters for my story (words to be used or objects to be present in the story), and would have the weekend to write a 500 word story.
The first few months were hard. My stories seemed so weak next to the short-listed and winning stories. I wondered if this poor little Fantasy writer was naive to bother.
But for all the reasons above, I kept entering. And each month, my stories got a little more polished.
And this month, to my delight, I was short-listed. I didn’t win, but my story was published, I got to read what they liked about it, and show all my friends a sample of my writing. It was a pat on the back and a shot of confidence, right at the point when I needed it. And as I sat back down to novel editing this week, it is with a small, new voice in my head whispering “You can do this.”
You can find my story on this page. Mine is the third story down 🙂