On the short story

After having my suspicions for some time, I think it is finally time to accept that I cannot write short stories. I’ve toyed with them on and off over the years, but have rarely written one I’ve been happy with. The most recent (that I completed) was a couple of years ago now and, while it did end up getting published, it was a memoir rather than fiction.

I have a lot of trouble devising a satisfying plot arc within the confines of a short story, especially if for one reason or another I am limited to 3000 words. I usually end up with a rambling fragment of a story that never really gets to the point and then fades off to an unsatisfying conclusion.

I also, for some reason, struggle to create solid characters in a short story. This may be because over the course of writing a novel length manuscript, I’m getting to know my characters as I write, and then I go back and give them more dimension on the second draft. Short stories are just too – well, short – for me to do this. Perhaps if I were more disciplined, I could plan better before I start writing and come up with those characters that really leap off the page.

Recently, entries were open for the Josephine Ulrick short story prize, one of the richest short story prizes in the world. First prize is $10,000. This is quite possibly more than I am likely to get as an advance if my first novel is ever published, so I decided it was time to try my hand at the short story once again.

I came up with a plot and everything. Well, kind of. A loose plot. Which is kind of how I roll (which in turn is kind of the excuse I make for not being a planner). I thought about it for a little while, I opened up a blank document and I typed.

One paragraph.

I determined to go back to it the next day and bang out a first draft, then hone hone hone.

I never even opened the document again.

That’s right. TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS WAS NOT ENOUGH INCENTIVE FOR ME TO WRITE ONE MEASLY SHORT STORY.

I admire people who can write short stories, I really do. Even more so, I admire those who can do both, and do them well. But I am not one of those people.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a novelist, not a short story writer. At least, that’s what I’m telling everyone.

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About Rebecca Freeborn

Writer, reader, horse rider, unapologetic grammar nazi, wine drinker. View all posts by Rebecca Freeborn

One response to “On the short story

  • Dawn Barker

    Oh Bec, I’m with you on that one. I’ve only ever written one, entered it just about everywhere and it’s gone nowhere. I struggle to think of ideas for short stories, never mind work out how to plot and write them. I have a great respect for those who are good at them as I think it’s a real skill. I too will stick to the novel!

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