This past Tuesday I released my third book, a collection of short stories called In a Northern Town.

It seems my writing is getting shorter and shorter. Maybe it has gone with the attention spans of our youth.

First came the novel. Then came a novella, which I followed up with a second novella. Being connected, I then published them together in one book. And then I started writing short stories.

I had heard that short stories were difficult to write, but that if done well could be extremely beneficial to a writer’s career. They offer glimpses into the talent, about what a reader might discover if he or she picks up a novel by the same author. They also offer an additional opportunity for promotion, as they can be submitted and appear in various magazines or online journals.

Seems easy, I thought to myself. Just crank out a couple thousand words and call it a day? The truth behind the short story was not so straightforward.

I had dabbled in short fiction before, but I had never seriously thought about writing a series of stories. So to start, I did what I always do, and that was to find short story collections by authors who had excelled. Two in particular stuck out to me.

The first was Ron Rash’s Something Rich and Strange. For those unfamiliar with Rash’s work, he sets nearly all of his fiction in Appalachia. That’s where he’s from, and he’s dedicated his work to capturing the essence of his homeland and the people who reside there. The collection is outstanding. Not only was it entertaining, but as a writer it completely changed the way I looked at short stories.

The second was The Nick Adams Stories by Ernest Hemingway. It collected the various stories that Hemingway wrote about his semi-autobiographical character Adams throughout his life. The first several stories, along with a few more scattered about, took place in northern Michigan—a place where Hemingway spent considerable time as a child and to where he returned following his injury in the first World War. His writing was always about truth, and this book was no exception.

My collection is called In a Northern Town. You could say it’s a mix of both Rash’s and Hemingway’s work. Without consciously intending to do so, I penned a series of stories that all took place in northern Michigan. Now, this isn’t a random setting—it’s where my first two books are set as well. But the region holds special meaning to me and I wanted to capture its culture and people and tell truthful and meaningful tales.

In all, I wrote the stories throughout the last year. But that “crank them out” philosophy disappeared rather quickly. First comes the ideas. Then comes the writing. Then comes the revising. Then comes the rewriting. Then comes the editing. Then you trash a few and start over again.

I thought it would be an easy process. I was wrong. But where is the satisfaction in easy?

“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

In order to write any book—whether it’s a novel, a novella, a short story collection, a memoir—you have to feel compelled that the work you’re doing is worth it. So far, that has never steered me wrong, and so I’ll continue to write.

 

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9 thoughts on “The craft of the short story

  1. Hi Ed, I find short stories really tough to write, all that boiling down and clever shaping. I used to compare mine with others in a literary magazine ot two, and found that the topics were just ‘not me’, but they seemed to be popular in the sense of ‘winning’ by being published, for reasons I couldn’t understand. So…I turned to novel writing instead – at least for now, and I will certainly be doing memoir at some time in the future. I agree whole heartedly with your point, ‘where is the satifaction in easy’ and that you have to write what compells you.

    Thank you for the follow, and I’m happy to reciprocate

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations on publishing your collection! It’s interesting that you’ve moved from longer works to short-stories. When we were just starting out, we only wrote short-stories (we took some creative writing classes in college, and workshops sort of necessitate shorter pieces). It’s only within the past couple of years that we’ve started writing longer works. Anyway, this was a great read (and those are some good short-story collections to get inspired by!). Thanks for sharing your process, and best of luck with your collection!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow.

    Thank you for that very wonderful essay on short stories. I wouldn’t have put that into thought. As a filmmaker and consumer of the visual media, I tend to find that I enjoy short films more because they tell a story with greater depth in a shorter package. I’ve never enjoyed the “Costco size” world of storytelling based on how long a script is or a book. To me it is about substance.

    I am not a writer, although I am trying to express myself in this way. I do not deny that it is possible to be a writer in at least just trying. However, I become blocked by my own fear of not telling something in a way that explains things well enough to engage or that the world I create is trivial or pedestrian and boring.

    I am grateful to be able to read your insights.

    Brian

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As is often explained to would-be writers, the issue of word count is important for traditional publishing because of costs involved in printing. With e-publishing, length makes no difference at all to cost of production. But readers seem to have another view. There’s a kind of commonsense acceptance of length and value already established from tradpub. There’s some kind of calculation of value for money, and they want to pay less for a shorter story, especially if you aren’t “famous”. Somehow all this has led to the assumption that the best price for a short work by a new author is no price at all. Give it away! Go one step further and pay them to read it! I want to pay for good writing, and I don’t want to read bad writing all, even if the author does pay me. Thanks for your thoughtful blog entries, I’ve enjoyed them all.

    Liked by 1 person

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