Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Shorts are great for longs!

Feather Pen © LK HunsakerI write Looong!

While at a signing with a group of authors this last weekend, one of them asked how many words I thought might be in my first two Rehearsal books. Without having to think, I said 260,000. Each. And there are three more to come. They said I was determined. I said I was obsessed.

Actually, as Pooh said, I use just the amount of words I need and no more (paraphrased). Or at least I try not to use more than I truly need to get the story out the way it needs to be. Do my Rehearsal books need to be so long? Of course. Why else would I write them so long? Could I do the same story shorter? I suppose, but then so much is left out and it wouldn’t truly be the same story. I did cut them both, by the way. I cut roughly 30,000 words out during edits. Each. Only those that did not effect the story, to sharpen and tighten. Yes, I hear laughter, but honestly, the story is fairly tight for literary-type fiction. It’s loooong for romance, of course, although it is romance.

As a change sometime in the midst of working on the novels, I decided to accept a contest challenge: 350 word stories, 5 of them. Hm. 350 and not 3,500 or 35,000? A full story? Of course a story needs to have the beginning, the climax, and the end, regardless of length. It has to have a point to it: character growth, something a reader can take with her. It’s not just a scene from a story. It has to be a “story” in itself.

I like challenges. Never mind I’d never written short stories before or that 350 words sounds like a quick email, not a complete story! Guess what? I got addicted. Ever since, I’ve been writing shorts in between my longs. It’s wonderful training to write concise and to focus on the heart of the story. I’m quite sure it’s been beneficial to my novels. My newest is only 65,000 words!

By this point, I have folders full of short stories. Most are around 1,000 words. Two folders are story series. In short (pun intended), I’m having a blast with them!

I was also part of a discussion once where authors were asked what they did when minor characters threatened to take over the story. Simple, I said. I give them their own short stories related to the novel and put them out as free reads. Brilliant, they said. Well, I won’t claim brilliance, but I do enjoy extending the novels that way, and apparently readers enjoy them since three of my shorts on Smashwords now have more than 500 downloads each, with several more catching up.

One of the novel-related stories is now part of CRR’s first Cupid Diaries anthology, Moments In Time. You can find it here.

If you’re looking to stretch your writing wings and haven’t tried shorts, why not? They are little time investment and a great way to add extras to your website/repertoire or just to experiment with different genres.

For the sake of amusement, here’s one of those first 350 word attempts:


The Truth Is

“What you read in the paper was a lie.”

Letting the old newspaper, yellowed with age and frayed at its edges, fall to my lap, I stayed silent, watching mother’s face. There was extra moisture making her sad eyes sparkle in a betraying way.

Looking beyond me, maybe to somewhere she could still see my father, Mother sighed, a heavy sigh full of loneliness. Father left us when I was still only a child, and I adored him. The old paper I found in his belongings suggested I shouldn’t.

“I suppose no one cared about the truth of things back then. Maybe they still don’t care about the truth of things. Truth doesn’t sell unless it’s a horrendous truth.” Mother continued to look into her past while speaking in a near whisper.

“The truth is that your father was more devoted to me than he had a right to be. He was overly devoted, if there is such a thing. He flirted, yes. It was part of his job. They liked to talk about it in the papers. They liked to make it more than it was.” A single tear streamed down Mother’s cheek.

“The truth is that your father was more devoted to you than most of those men condemning him likely are to their own children. Maybe it made them see guilt in themselves. Maybe it was their way of getting even. It’s all such a horrible thing to do to the memory of such a good man. And no one on earth, other than those of us who knew him, seems to care.”

I stood, going to Mother to wrap my trembling arms around her. “I care. And I will make others care. I will write the truth.”

My autobiography found its first words that evening.


LK Hunsaker
~Literary Romance with an Artsy Twist~

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Bekki Lynn said...

I never thought I could write a story under 150,000 words, but in steps down I've managed to pull off stories around 10,000 words. My first two attempts sent me in a tizzy. All I could envision was how they could be, should be, as full length novels. I ended up putting them aside to that.

I don't know that I can do shorts as small as 350 words, but I'm glad you talked about how the shorts had to be complete stories of themselves and not like a part of another story.

I get really annoyed when I read shorts that come off like an excerpt from a longer story.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Lk - I love your poignant short story, so full of life and mystery, sadness and joy. I agree with you that short stories are a wonderful way to develop the craft of writing - to make every word count. And, as you and Savanna have both found, it's a way to 'fill the well' of your story-telling and creativity.

Bekki, I'm with you - I'm not sure I could do a short of 350 words, but maybe I should give it a try.

LK Hunsaker said...

Bekki, that bothers me, too, and you see so much of it, at least with newer writers. There's a huge difference between short story and excerpt/scene.

Another long writer! :-)

LK Hunsaker said...

Lindsay, thank you! I bet you can and I'd love to read it. :-)

Savanna Kougar said...

LK, wonderful 'short story'. And, I can identify because a similar thing happened to me. It's really odd how very few care about the actual truth, no matter if you can prove it. For some reason, they'd rather have the 'negative fantasy' that's been created.

I'll have to try doing those short stories. Maybe, Lindsay, could have a '350 word story' topic for all of us. Most of my flash fiction is a scene, or more like an excerpt, so it would be a challenge for me.

I have an ongoing Serial Flash called Courtship on Another Earth. I started it on December 26, 2008 and write 200 words a day on it [so far]. And I am now up to Part 569 ~

I do believe writing flash fiction regularly has improved my crafting as a writer.

Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, I meant to add ~ that is brilliant about giving your minor characters their own short story.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Hi LK, Bekki and Savanna - those all sound wonderful ideas! I'll have a think of a topic.

One thing that flashed into my mind now (just this moment)was the topic FIRE DANCE, if anyone wants to run with that...

LK Hunsaker said...

Savanna, it's sad, isn't it? That's largely what Off The Moon was about: misconceptions and assumptions and what kind of pain they cause.

Doing 350 word stories with a theme here would be great! Lindsay, that sounds like a good one!

Savanna Kougar said...

Lindsay, FIRE DANCE... that's a good one. I love dance. And, I the idea of a fire dance.

Celia Yeary said...

LORAINE--yes, you do write long. but each page is filled with emotion and reality.
I write shorts best if it's sort of a childhood anecdotal story--I never know if this is the correct term. for example, "California Cousins" is about 1000 words, I think, and it has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Just like a three-act play.Those are very easy to write as soon as I think of it. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on shorts vs long. Celia

LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Celia, thank you! Your blog posts are like short stories. You definitely have the knack for it. :-)

Linda Banche said...

Like Bekki, I'm not sure I can do real shorts. Of course, I haven't tried, either. Maybe I should.

Rebecca J Vickery said...

Hi LK and friends,
I am still struggling with shorts...I always think of so much that would help "tell" the story. But I'm naturally wordy. LOL
Nice to know we aren't alone in our wordiness.

LK Hunsaker said...

Linda, I think you'd be good at shorts!

Rebecca, yes, it's hard to leave those things out but it's rewarding, also, when you find you can and still have a good story. ;-)