Short Story Problems

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I recently realized that I haven’t touched a short story in months. Maybe even a full year. Yikes!

Focus has a lot to do with that. Are you sensing how this is a recurring theme for me?

I though it was funny how short stories seem to require more focus from me than novels, so I decided to unpack that to figure out why. Since a novel has more characters and plot threads and twists and settings and details to remember – to the extent that some writers fill books and binders with almost encyclopedic knowledge – shouldn’t that require more focus? After all, people turn to reading short stories when their full lives don’t leave time or space for novels. It only makes sense that writing follows the same pattern.

And there’s always the distinct possibility that I’m just weird. Never rule that out.

Part of the issue is that there are different types of focus. One type is the kind that carries you through the completion of a story. That’s a focus I never used to have, but I’ve managed to develop over the last ten years. This sort of focus for me is deeply rooted in my love of the story I’m drafting at the time, so it’s (now) easy to sustain long term.

But if a novel is a marathon, a short story is a sprint. They’re different specializations.

The focus I require for a short story is more intense and consuming. I do not have the many intricacies of a novel to hold me in love with the story, so I have to draft it over as short a time as possible. If I don’t have, say, two hours to block out with no interruptions, I won’t even start. It’s not worth it if I can’t really get into the story, and the words that do come out will feel half-assed and mediocre, at best. At worst, I may lose interest in the story entirely.

Short stories themselves as a narrative form are more focused. They have to be. Otherwise, you end up with either something that is more like a novel excerpt or some amorphous thing in which your readers can’t find the story. So for me, at least, writing them requires a similar focus.

For now, I’ll have to stick with novels. They’re still my first writing love, after all, so it’s not such a bad fate. But I miss short stories.

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