Until about half a year ago, I’d have told you that I don’t write short stories. My stories tend to grow exponentially as I write them, and the meagre 2, 000 to 10, 000 word limit on short stories has never seemed enough to do them justice. Added to that was the fact that, well, I just wasn’t interested in short stories. So I kept on writing my novels.
It was only when I recieved feedback from an editor remarking upon the need for improvement in pacing that the idea of short stories came up again. At around the same time I began to attend a writer’s group in my local library, where we were quite often given a list of words and asked to write a poem, short story, etc., using all the words.
The setting was the Second World War. The place was a rooftop. The words were ‘ladder’, ‘shopgirl’, and something else I can’t remember now. And for the first time, I had an idea for a short story. I gave myself ten pages. Ten pages to experiment with pacing. Ten pages to see if I could actually do it. Ten pages to play out the entire idea, and a week in which to write it. You can see how it turned out here. I had so much fun with A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend. More importantly, it gave me real life practise in trying a different type of pacing.
You see, you can’t waste words in a short story. You’ve got a limited amount of them, and you have to make sure each word counts. If you’re a writer like me, that means figuring out how to slip from scene to scene neatly and coherently, in as few words as possible. I’ve always been overly verbose, and wrangling words into their simplest terms was refreshing. It was challenging. And when you have to read your short story aloud to a room full of impatient elderly writers who each want you to Shut Up So I Can Get On With MY Story, you’re going to be confined to an even smaller word count.
A Time-Traveller’s Best Friend was preceded by Ruth and the Ghost, which I found even more enjoyable, if possible. After the two short stories came flash fiction, and then the Drabble. I still love my novels. I still even prefer them to short stories. But now I know a little more about pacing, and I’ve had practise in stream-lining my fiction. I’m stretching myself as a writer. I’m learning. And when you’re still in the slush pile, that’s about all you can hope for.
Keep writing, fellow slush-ites. Stretch yourselves. Try something new. One day that’ll be us in the Best-Seller list.