As I work on finalizing the release of Not about Lumberjacks later this month, my mind has drifted to short stories. It’s strange after being focused on nothing but novel-length fiction in recent years.
I’ve mentioned before that I used to write short fiction regularly, back when two friends and I met every couple weeks for a writing group. That’s long gone, though, and with that — I turned my attention to much bigger word counts.
A Return to Shorter Things
While I have enough short fiction to carry the new podcast for quite some time, I don’t want to find myself one day being stuck with having to write to keep up with each episode — I want to always have stories waiting to record. So while I work on editing the next draft of the current novel, I find short fiction creeping back into my mind.
I’m thinking about short fiction, reading more short fiction than usual, and listening to short fiction. I’m thinking about how podcasting short fiction allows me to do things totally relying on audio that written short fiction doesn’t offer. I’m thinking about writing in general more than usual thanks to a return to shorter things.
There are plenty of “Eureka!” moments when working on a novel, but it’s a much slower process, and because of that — aspects of novels tend to pile up in my mind and feel like weight. Short stories explode in my mind, and that excitement from new things carries over to all other things I do.
What I Like About Short
I tend to strive for more serious themes with novel-length fiction. Some magical realism might seep in along the sides, but I won’t dedicate 100,000 words to overly bizarre or very quirky things. In my world, that is what short fiction is for. (I leave the truly bizarre novels to those who do it better than I do.)
With short stories, I can explore a family relationship through the black sheep of a family being left only a [truly] Magic 8-Ball in his parents’ will — while his brother and sister get the seemingly bigger things. I can go dismal and even end a story on an unhappy note because I don’t care if you feel gutted after a few thousand words. But I’m not going to ask a reader to invest days sitting with a larger work, only to have no sense of hope by the end of a novel.
I can’t imagine stretching a short story like this to novel length, but it works at 356 words.
Reading Short Fiction
The first adult fiction I ever read was The Stories of John Cheever. I jumped in because I knew it was a collection of short stories, and that seemed much less intimidating than a full novel. After that, before finding John Irving, I read Stephen King’s Different Seasons. Never really a fan of King’s longer works, I read all his short fiction I could find after the four novellas in that book.
There are times as an adult when life gets busy. (Like right now: working on a big day job project.) Short fiction fills the gaps of time, whether it’s reading short fiction on my phone during lunch, or knocking out a story or two on the couch in the evening before getting back to day job work at night. I’m always amazed by what some writers do with short. The title story of Jess Walter’s We Live in Water is so complex in how simple it’s laid out; it’s one of the few things I’ve read recently that made me envious and caused me to just sit there appreciating how well structured it is.
Short is also a great way to find writers I’ve never read before, whether it’s picking up an anthology of short fiction, or checking something out from the library.
Because of the upcoming new podcast, I’m reading more short fiction.
Recording Short Fiction
The first podcast I ever did was reading my first novel and releasing a chapter a week. It wasn’t easy for me (I have always had a hard time reading out loud), but with practice comes improvement. I’ve thought about recording a novella I wrote, but I never get around to it. I know there’s not much difference between recording 20 chapters of something and 20 short stories, but short stories allow a better schedule.
I’ve found with the weekly podcast I do with a friend that many people have a hard time keeping up with a weekly show. Releasing a short story a month that’s not as long as the weekly show seems more in line with the schedules of most people I know. Short fiction allows me the time to create a podcast that’s not as rushed in any way.
More than that, though: it’s an excuse to write short fiction regularly again and improve the way I read things. As a dyslexic, I’ve spent most of my life terrified of any situation where I’ve had to read out loud, and recording fiction forces me to improve and overcome a life-long embarrassment.
While word count on novels comes first, after that — it’s all about short fiction.
Stories are piling up in my head, and I’m writing something different than novels and blog entries for the first time in years.
There’s an excitement in writing that I’ve missed. I know there are people who have a hard time finishing novels because they are a bit of a slog at some point and the urge to work on newer things pulls them to creating a bunch of started things never finished. I finish novels, even if it takes some time. I know what the next several novels I will write are about, but I will not begin work on them until the current novel has run its course.
I find the process of creating novels the most satisfying thing in my life, but I’d be lying if I said it’s also the most fun thing in my life. Next to canoeing or hiking with my wife, or hanging out with other people I care about and talking about things we’re excited about, writing short fiction is a blast!
And I’m happy to say recording it is right up there as well.