Monday, July 31, 2006

And on the left side of the railing...

I've known for a very long time that my strengths in writing are best suited to longer works: novellas and novels. And, oddly, I seem to be able to write decent flash fiction. But shorts... I struggle with them. Part of this is personal preference. I don't like reading short stories, so why should I think I would like writing them? I don't like them for the same reason I don't particularly like songs, but prefer opera, or symphonies, or a film score. I like my moods sustained. I want to go into something and stay there. I don't want to be amused for mere minutes when I could disappear into a world for hours.

That's not to say there aren't short stories that I enjoy, and I do read shorts regularly. And yet, when I look back at the stories from, say, F&SF magazine, the first two that pop to my mind are Kate Wilhelm's "Naming the Flowers" and Adam-Troy Castro's "The Funeral March of the Marionettes." Both are novellas, not shorts. Both awed me. Both rank among the best stories I've ever read. The other one that really stands out is "Death and Suffrage" by Dale Bailey, which was much shorter and just as fabulous, and any and every story written by M. Rikert. I would buy anything she wrote, sight unseen, because her stories are always that good. But those are about all that I remember by title and author. A handful out of.... fifteen years of diligently reading the magazine? That's not to say I didn't enjoy most of the stories I read. Because I did. F&SF consistently prints good stories. It's just that in the realm of the shorter stories, it's more difficult to find something truly inspiring.

So I write short stories infrequently, and most of them get read by maybe one person I trust, and then they get filed away in the "practice" folder. Because that's what 90% of my shorts feel like to me. Just practice sessions, experimenting with voices and tense and structure. They're useful for that. I have only three or four shorts that I really like and think would be worth working on. And the one I like best of all, I'm not ready to write. I know that. I'm missing something yet that would allow me to do it justice. And so it sits, just a title, the outline of the story, and a few experimental paragraphs, waiting.


  1. Anonymous11:22 AM

    It's good to know your strengths Deb but it's also good to stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone. And it sounds like you do that on occasion. The only part of your process that I object to is you sticking your short stories in a practise folder. No way! Get those stories in the mail (snail or electronic) and let the world get a look at them. We are our own worst judges. Don't trust your own opinion. Let an editor shoot you down.

    That's what they're for. ;-)

  2. Well thanks, and if the story doesn't completely make me roll my eyes, I'll usually follow your advice and sub it. But if it's one that, even if an editor did take it, I wouldn't ever mention it to anyone else because I don't like it and would be embarrassed to have my name associated with it, what's the point? I can write better, non-cliche stories in the future.