What am I doing while I’m taking a break from The Locked Room, you might ask. Do I twiddle my thumbs and spend all day shopping?
Well, no. (Except I went shopping today. But I bought books, so it doesn’t count!).
I started a short story a couple weeks back. I had planned on writing about 12K words, but yesterday when I was writing I realized my characters had more to say. I thought I only had the epilogue left to write, but it turns out I need at least one more chapter. And I’m already at 12K so it’ll be a little longer than I originally planned.
I won’t tell you what it’s about just yet. Instead I want to discuss short stories.
I’m fussy with book length. I don’t like books that are too long. (And that goes for everything. Why does a movie need to be 3 hours, or a song 8 minutes?) If it isn’t one of my favorite authors I always check the page count before I buy a book, and very rarely do I buy anything longer than 300 pages. If a book is too long I have to fight the urge to roll my eyes and shout “Not another twist, I can’t take it!” What some people consider complex and interesting is just too much for me.
To be completely honest I prefer short stories.
Writing short stories is difficult, and not everybody can do it (and it remains to be seen if I can). Even a short story needs a plot, interesting characters, some kind of conflict, and a resolution—and all this needs to be less than 20K words (any more than that and it’s traditionally considered a novella).
I greatly admire people who have the ability to be economical with their words, but are still able to evoke emotions and reactions from the reader. Take Stephen King for example, who’s a master at writing short stories. When I was a teenager I read Skeleton Key (a collection of short stories), and there’s a story in particular that’s stuck with me over the years: Survivor Type.
It’s about a disgraced surgeon who’s marooned on a tiny deserted island with a large amount of heroin he tried to smuggle. There’s no food, and while he tries to hunt a bird he breaks his ankle. He realizes he needs to amputate his foot to survive, so he does. And then he eats it.
If you want to know how it ends you’ll have to read it yourself. But on less than 20 pages Stephen King explores what a person is willing to do to survive, and he does it masterfully. (Sorry about the adverb there Mr. King—I know you don’t like them! 🙂 )
But since I’m not a horror writer (I’m far too nice to subject even fictional people to such terrible things), I’ll give you an example of a MM-romance short story I absolutely love: Micah’s soldier by Jessie G. According to Goodreads it’s 6000 words, and I felt like I’d been sucker punched after I finished it. The characters are interesting, we get enough back story to understand their reasons for their actions, and there’s a satisfying end.
Jessie G. doesn’t even need 10K words to make me cry. That’s some serious skill, if you ask me.
What do you think? What’s your preference, long or short stories? Or are you the literary equivalent of the Cookie Monster and want ALL THE STORIES? 🙂