July 13th, 2008


On Short Stories, and the Remixing Thereof

I visited my roommate recently, and she had an excellent observation on the rewriting of short stories.

To back up, I've been meaning to rewrite my "cross-dressing dragons" short story for weeks. It was the final project for my Advanced Fiction class last semester, and my professor was kind enough to talk with me about it on the phone this summer. He had some great suggestions, and I know the story can be rewritten better - but it does need rewriting. Even deep editing will not cut it. And knowing that, I've had the toughest time getting together motivation to start.

As often happens, Becky had the answer. In this case, though, it answers "why is this happening" more than "how can I change it," so it doesn't abolish the problem. It's still good to know.

"Yeah," quoth Becky. "I have a hard time rewriting short stories. It feels like I had that story in me, and now I've gotten it out, and I'm done with it. I just don't feel the need to do anything with it after that."

It's true. Short stories often revolve around a limited concept (you know, something like "cross-dressing dragons"), and I personally have had little success in writing short stories which involve characters from my longer works, or writing multiple short stories about the same characters. Once I've written the story, I'm happy to edit, but less able to rewrite.

"I've already written my cross-dressing dragons story," I'll say. "What's the point in writing it again?"

Obviously, the point is to make it better, but I've had enough experience with writing a half-dozen false starts before a class deadline to know that having reasons to write a piece isn't always enough to get things going. There is definitely a mushier element of "feeling it," or whatever you want to call it, that you need.

In exploring the differences between short stories and novels, I've found an interesting comparison with my Dad's work in the visual arts. Since my parents are artists, I've always liked to find ways that their artistic process is similar to and different from mine. Dad once told me that, when he has only a little while to be in his studio, he sometimes has time to work on a painting but not a drawing. This would seem odd, perhaps, since the paintings take much longer than the drawings. Dad's drawings - like my short stories - tend to be completed in one take (or very few, at least), and reflect a sort of fleeting mood and artistic goal. The paintings, like novels, are larger projects which can take a little work on any given day, regardless of mood. They have larger timespans, are larger commitments, and hold interest longer. I have plenty of days when I couldn't sit down and write a short story, but practically no days when I couldn't do a little work on whatever novel I've got going.

This is a bit of a ragtag entry, topic-wise. Hopefully, I'll be back on an informative, helpful technique/experience-based track next week, but I felt the short-story stuff was worth mentioning.