The Art of Short
by Annette McCleave on June 23rd, 2009

Right from the beginning, I’ve written novel-length stories. Perhaps because I grew up reading books and not magazines, I never attempted to write shorter tales. Or perhaps it was a snobbery of sorts—being a novelist has a certain cache that I’m not sure can be said of essayist or short story author. Either way, I hopped right to the 400 page gorilla.

In hindsight, I’m not sure that was the wisest course.

As Jessa so aptly described in her article yesterday, it doesn’t take a lot of words to tell a story. The advantage to learning the art of the short tale first is that you develop an infinite respect for the value of each and every word. When you only have a few to work with, each one must truly pull its weight.

I also believe a shorter medium forces the author to focus on the critical elements of the story: character, plot, conflict, resolution. You don’t have room to wander into convoluted subplots or lecture the reader on the world you’ve built to house your characters.

If you’ve ever tried to distill a novel-length book into a log line, you know how big and complicated a story of that length can be. Yet, I find the most memorable books are those that never lose sight of their core story, that never forget the true nature of the main character, and that tie up the trailing story threads—not neatly in a bow, but satisfactorily, with a reader’s sigh.

Learning the art of the short tale must surely help in honing those talents. Or so it seems to me.

I’ve since tried my hand a few shorter pieces. I wrote a 40 page Christmas story and 120 page medieval novella (which made it to the finals of the Brava Novella contest). I still have miles to go in perfecting the shorter story, but the experience was great. As you can see from my response to Jessa’s challenge yesterday, I find the concept of short-story-telling very intriguing, and I suspect I’ll make other forays into the genre. If for no other reason than to round out my skills.

Have you read short stories you fell in love with and found were delightfully complete and whole? Have you read others you wished were longer? Or (laughing) novels you wished were shorter? Feel free to share.

p.s. In the spirit of proving short can be good, I’ll offer up my brand new book trailer for DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, which is a mere 1 minute long. Enjoy.

9 comments to “The Art of Short”

  1. 1

    As someone who started short and is still trying for that novel length manuscript…it’s darn hard.

    Developing character emotion and subplots is actually hard for me to do. I like it short and sweet but that doesn’t make a novel.

    There are some authors that I like their short stories better than their novels. Sherrilyn Kenyon is one. I lost interest in a lot of the Dark Hunter novels but enjoyed the humor and plots of her novellas. Just weird I guess.


  2. 2

    Beth, I’m so envious of your ability to write short, and I wish I could offer you the secret to writing longer! Do you have a critique partner who writes longer stuff? One thing that helped me tackle shorter length stories was having a CP who wrote awe-inspiring novellas.

    I guess the truth is it’s equally hard to move in either direction. All we can do is keep at it until we get it right.

    Thanks for the recommendation on Sherrilyn’s novellas–I’ll have to check them out.


  3. 3

    The short story is an art. Not everyone can manage to contain themselves and get to the point.

    I have written short and long. It’s a different set of muscles for each. I love reading good short stuff though. King and Bradbury, especially, are faves.


  4. 4

    A different set of muscles. Yes, that describes the skill development well, Annie. Same goes for poetry and songwriting, I’m sure.

    I love Stephen King but have never read any of his shorts. How inexcusable. :grin: I’m off to order one of his anthologies online.


  5. 5

    Oooh, love the trailer. CoS does nice work!


  6. 6

    The best anthology(and my favourite) I’ve come across so far, IMO, is Mythspring edited by Genevieve Kierans and Julie E. Czerneda


  7. 7

    Awesome trailer!! A great “short story” in itself!


  8. 8

    Sharon & Kim, thanks for the comments on the trailer!

    Jacqueline, I’ll have to look that anthology up–I’m unfamiliar with both those writers, but it sounds like I should discover them. :smile:


  9. 9

    Ah, yet another story length to master:

    High concept: 2-4 words
    Log line: One line
    Elevator pitch: Two sentences

    There’s the one you’ve now added–
    Book video script: 30 sec-1 minute

    Typical synopsis: 2 pages
    Working outline: 10-50 pages
    Genre novel: 95K-120K

    I loved Aesop’s fables as a kid. I had a big hard cover book that fit about one fable per page with a small line drawing. As with the Twit fic I mentioned yesterday, Aesop gets character, plot, conflict, resolution and a clever moral all on one page.

    ‘Course, he never had to work in a love scene.


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