Monday, June 22, 2015
Why I've Been Reading Short Stories
Of course I was a fan of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and The BFG when I was a kid, but as a teenager I was introduced to his adult stuff. I had read his short story Lamb to the Slaughter for -you guessed it- school, and I really enjoyed it. I was surprised with how deliciously twisted it was, so when the collections of stories popped up, school had warmed me up enough to buy it.
I loved it. This collection was perfect to start me on my short story journey. From there I explored more traditional short stories from Edith Wharton and Bronwen Wallace (yes, I did explore the dreaded Can-Lit.), but I also read pieces that were more like vignettes and prose poems, such as The House on Mango Street, and Seen Reading. Some stories required a bit more attention than others *cough* Wharton's *cough*, but overall I felt enriched by reading them.
Beyond simple enjoyment and broadening my reading horizons, I had an ulterior motive to reading these stories. I was reading them like a writer and taking note of what made these pieces shine (or fall short). Recently, I decided that the next step in developing myself as a writer was to learn to master the short story. To do this I needed to do some research.
I think this quote from George R.R. Martin sums up why I'm going back to the short story.
“I would also suggest that any aspiring writer begin with short stories. These days, I meet far too many young writers who try to start off with a novel right off, or a trilogy, or even a nine-book series. That’s like starting in at rock climbing by tackling Mt. Everest. Short stories help you learn your craft.” – George R.R. Martin
It's not that I'm not capable of writing a complete 100 000 word draft of a novel, because I am; I've done it before. Instead, I want to return to this basic form because it cuts away all the fluff of exposition and gets to the meat of the story real fast. Writing short stories has forced me to figure out what's really important to a story and what's really not. I want to learn to be a writer that is brief, concise and impactful.
Writing short stories has been immensely satisfying, because I can write it start to finish in a relatively short time. The size of the piece makes it a lot less daunting to revise and refine into a piece and not just some word-upchuck on a page. It feels great to look at my folder of stories and see five complete pieces. Since the pieces are so short, if I end up hating a story I can discard it without feeling like I'm giving away a year of my life, like I would if I wrote a novel. Overall, downsizing from those 300 page drafts to a draft that's four pages at the most has been utterly refreshing.
I have also found some practical benefits of writing shorter pieces and they are as follows:
1. People don't mind reading your entire piece and giving you feedback
2. You can enter your short stories in contests (not many want novel-sized submissions)
Do you like reading short stories? Have you written short stories? Go big or go home? Let me know what you think about this topic in the comments!
I spent this post discussing my new found love of short stories, but I'm also a huge fan of the YA genre. H.M. Wilson was kind enough to interview me about that genre on her blog Plottinger Twist and you should definitely go check it out.
Reading: Life is Short - Art is Shorter: In Praise of Brevity by David Shields
Listening: Mumford and Sons, Wilder Mind