Why do I find it so hard to write short stories?

Why do I find it so hard to write short stories?

Smoke In My Eyes coverAt the start of 2013 I decided to try to write and submit three short pieces this year. As of today I’ve managed one – Smoke In My Eyes – and I’m working on another. Meanwhile I’ve drafted one novel and edited three and should (fingers crossed) have another novel outlined by the end of the year. Oh and I’ve done a polish of two self published novels.

Novels, kind of easy, in some ways then. But shorts? Like getting blood from a turnip.

Lashings of Sauce CoverThey don’t come naturally to me. When I do write them—like the Reclaiming Territory story in the Lashings of Sauce anthology, they come out like edited highlights from a longer story. I could very easily take that short as a starting point, extrapolate everything that I know happened between the scenes in the story and make a novel of it.

Smoke In My Eyes and the one I’m working on right now are a bit long for shorts, being around 15,000 words. I think short is hard for romance, since that’s usually all about the development of a relationship. That’s hard to do in a short.

And yet I used to be able to write shorts. In fact I wrote dozens of them, from drabbles to several thousand words, but still shorts. (A drabble by the way is a story exactly 100 words long. And I was a stickler for making them exactly 100 words.) So I could write them – when I was writing fanfic.

The difference for me was established characters. The reader already knew them and their relationships. The characters brought their entire context to the story with them. They don’t start as blank slates, like original characters. So I could write vignettes or more elaborate shorts all day—about established characters, whether someone else’s or my own. But new characters? I can’t get my head around it. A short feels like too little space to create a character. And anyway if I like them I want to spend more time with them. Novel writing time…

I’ll let you in on a secret – Chris and Daniel in Smoke In My Eyes are established characters. They’ve been salvaged from one of my “albatross” books I never wrote. Chris in fact has been salvaged before – he’s in two other stories from before my pro days, with a different name and doing different jobs, different history, a different stage in his life. But at the core, still him. They and their story have been tweaked of course, turned into a new story. But they are the same guys I’ve known for years.

So Smoke In My Eyes, like Reclaiming Territory is really a small part of a longer story. But the one I’m currently drafting is not. Those guys are totally new and aside from back story I don’t have a load of detail in my mind about how they got to where they are in the story. So maybe this one is truly a short. We will see…

What about you? Do you tend more to the long or the short form? Or happily mix both?


5 thoughts on “Why do I find it so hard to write short stories?

  1. This is really interesting. I’ve just had my first short story published, with two completely new characters, and while I didn’t find that hard to write, that was because the characters had done that thing of arriving fully formed in my head – such that I’m now writing their second story and I have a bad feeling this is going to end up being a novel-in-short-stories (is there a name for that?). I’m with you – if I like the characters, I always want to know more.

    I guess it’s like the man said about the letter – ‘sorry this is so long, I didn’t have time to make it short.’ 🙂

    1. If the idea has few characters and seems quite simple I can probably tell the story as a novella or short story. If the story is more complex and has sub characters it is probably a full novel. I wrote a novella of 18k and two 10k shorts this year & really enjoyed writing them as the first shorts since I started ‘properly’ writing. It is useful as when I have ideas now I can work out if they’ll be a novella, short or novel based on the above. Liam Livings

    2. Ah, I’ve done the novel in short stories thing before – well, I thought of them as episodes and there ended up being five novels worth. LOL, this was before I went pro. It was one of those projects that raged out of control like a forest fire. 😀

  2. I have this same problem in my “home” genre (though still unpublished genre for me) of science fiction. I cannot, for the life of me, write less than 90,000 words. And what I’ve got percolating now — the sci-fi book that I think will finally make it — has got to be 120,000 words.

    Yet in erotic romance and erotica? I have the opposite problem. I find it hard to stretch it to 50,000 sometimes. Shorts come easily — though they do tend to be erotica versus erotic romance. I’ve got a bunch of story ideas for stories ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 words… but anything longer than that? That’s difficult!

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