When Novel Ideas Masquerade as Short Stories

I’m coming off a summer of insane productivity. For me.

And although I’ve done some work on two of my novel-length projects, the name of the game has been short stories.

Five of them in the 4-6k range, all speculative fiction. Two were written before the summer, and I’ve been revising and soliciting feedback on them. The other three were drafted this summer. One was accepted by an anthology. The remaining two I hope to have submission-ready by next month. Fingers crossed.

I’ve started to workshop the pieces with like-minded members of my local meetup writing group – a breakout group of those who were actively pursuing publication and were already at a certain level with their craft. This group of ladies has provided some hugely helpful feedback (even though we all write very different things).

Something that has been consistent in their comments is that each short story could be so much more. Sometimes that means I have to flesh out the world or the story a bit more. But most of the time it means they think I should be writing a novel instead of a short story. That my short stories are novels in disguise.

I’ve talked before about my difficulties in writing short – and believe me, I’m aware of the irony that my other publishing credits are flash fiction.

What’s a girl to do? Well, I’m not opposed to writing novels, obviously. In fact, my “natural length” is probably more novel than short story (and writer Juliette Wade has a great post on this: Natural Length and the Fractal Nature of Stories). The problem is I’ve got two speculative fiction projects already queued up. So converting any of the stories in this current batch into a longer work won’t be happening any time soon.

Then there’s the advice that writing short can be a great way to jumpstart your career (see Lydia Sharp’s post The Benefits of Writing Short and The Long on the Short post from Magical Words). And that’s what I was trying to do with these stories that I’ve turned out this year.

So, as I revise, I’m working hard to do the following:

1) Streamline story elements as much as possible without compromising my view of the story world

This may mean simplifying plot points or removing certain features of the world – especially if they open up a whole host of questions that my story doesn’t address. I often add in aspects that I think flesh out the worlds in a shorthand way, but oftentimes these are the same things my writing group calls me out on. As Juliette Wade points out in Worldbuilding for Short Stories: “in a short story, you have very little room to explain or explore. Everything you do has to be done in as few words as possible.” So Poe’s assertion that every element of a short story should work in concert to achieve a unity of effect is something I need to keep in mind.

2) Find ways to develop character without developing character

Calm down. I’m not advocating one-dimensional characters. But in SF/F stories, where worldbuilding and story action demand a not insignificant portion of the story, that doesn’t leave you with a whole lot of room to devote to your characters. This is where voice is so important – and it’s no surprise that all the short stories I’m working on are written in first person. I vowed at the beginning of the year to write in first person to help me really sink into my characters and that’s proven doubly helpful in terms of developing character without slowing the story action down.

3) Analyze all the themes/issues/plot points and decide if they are best served by the short story form

This is always tough. I have to decide if I can fit everything into one story. Or, if I remove some elements, will the story be stronger? If not, maybe I should just save it for a novel. I fear this is already the case with one of my short stories, but I will give it the old college try at keeping it short. Besides, more than other genres, lots of SF novels started out as short stories, and I’m just following the trend…

Have you ever been told you have a novel masquerading as short story? Did you end up paring your story down? Or did you turn it into a novel? Happy writing!
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Finding the Right Writing Group

A few weeks ago I found a new writing group. I’ve been to a handful of meetings and can officially say I’m in love.

I’ve been on the lookout for a new writing group since my old one kinda sorta disbanded when the founder stopped scheduling meetings when her personal life got in the way. There’s still a chance things will resume. But after four months of radio silence, I’m not going to hold my breath.

My weekly prompt writing group is still going strong – and that’s where the two stories accepted for publication in Eclectic Flash originated from. But this group, although I love going, is focused on writing practice not critique – and critique is something I’m needing at this point in time.

I happened to be scrolling through my Twitter timeline a few weeks ago when I saw a tweet by Elizabeth S Craig: “A tool for finding in-person crit groups. Type in “critique group” and your location: http://bit.ly/lSed7B

So I clicked, and was redirected to Meetup.com.

Wait a minute. I had already done this when I first moved to town almost two years ago. There was only one writing group, and they were closed to any more fiction writers with maybe a spot for a serious writer of creative nonfiction or memoir. Pretentious much?

But since I was already on the page, I decided I might as well plug in my zip code to see if anything changed. After all, I was desperate for the regular meetings and thoughtful discussions that come from a dedicated critique group.

Turns out a new writing group had gotten started at the beginning of the year and anyone could join. Score. Meetups are held in alternating locations across town, and there’s at least two sessions each week (one in the mornings and one after work) with writers of all styles and genres.

Although I’ve been going to as many meetups as possible, the structure allow for people to pop in now and again with no commitment. We just need to bring five pages and copies to share. Everyone reads their work aloud and then the group discusses it, offering constructive feedback, the good and bad. It’s a great format for testing out story ideas or seeing if the oh-so-important beginning of your story or novel hooks readers of all stripes. And best of all, there’s been no egos in sight – just writers serious about strengthening their work.

After just a few sessions, I’ve already connected with dozens of writers in the area I’ve never met before through other literary events in town. And considering the on-again/off-again relationship with my last group, I’m glad for something with a bit more stability.

Writing groups are fickle things – just like the people behind them.

Don’t settle for a group that doesn’t fit your needs. You may not find a perfect group right away, but don’t stop looking. Stay on the lookout for new opportunities.

And don’t forget to recheck resources like Meetup.com every so often. You never know what will happen.

Happy writing!

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