So I know I’ve touched on submissions before, and how one gets ideas for them. It’s easy to surf around and say “oh hey, here are nine thousand places looking for stories that sound interesting; LET’S GO!” but it’s less easy to actually write them.
Now here’s my usual problem.
I’m sure some of you will not be surprised to hear that I have difficulty with short fiction. If you’ve seen any of my Fiction Fridays that tie in with Thimbleful Thursdays, then you know most of them start with “sorry, I went over word count…” I just have to be happy that Lyn doesn’t grade me on these or anything. (I hope not, at least. Please don’t grade me, Lyn!) And the trouble is that submissions have a tendency to be either way shorter than I have any idea how to tell a story in…or far longer than I have any idea of how to write. (Yes, occasionally I have that trouble as well. I know, I know. It’s hard to imagine.)
Here’s my problem: I started out writing very long stories, either in fan fiction or roleplaying games. And in both cases, there is a certain level of the character and the world that is already pre-established. Usually RPGs (especially online one) have somewhere that you post your character’s profile. That has all the things you’d ever really need to know about them–aside from anything you use as plot twists, of course. In the same vein, whoever your storyteller/game master is has already established a world that everyone playing and reading understands and knows.
This is half of what makes any of my stories run too long. Setting up character, setting, AND some semblance of plot and not go over whatever word count isn’t easy. Now, there are two ways this can go wrong. Either you have a flash fiction limit, and you have to do all of this in absolutely no more than 1000 words. This is usually my problem. The other one–and I’ve had this one happen too–is that you have 6000-10000 words, but by the time you really get rolling and are ready to wrap everything up, you suddenly realize that you’re already at nine thousand and you’ve easily got three thousand more to go at least before you can wrap up the storyline. Having all that room can tie the noose for you, and you’ll run yourself in circles until you fall over. Dig your own grave and all.
Is there a solution for this? I’m not sure, honestly. What most authors tell me is that it’s a matter of practice. The more often you try to write short stories, the more successful you’ll be at it. This is generally true of almost anything; practice makes perfect and all. I still find myself running into word count walls even when I’ve pared myself back as far as I can possibly go, which likely says something more about my writing style than it does my actual talent. It’s amusing, since my father is also a writer and he has a much stronger affinity for short stories than I do. On the contrary, he finds the longer stories more difficult. His published work is a collection of short stories (and one I’d recommend checking out, and not because he’s related to me) and at least one of his novel concepts is built as a collection of shorts. (And in fact, what he’ll likely be working on for National Novel Writing Month this November is also set up more like that.
My good friend Casey is also a champion of flash fiction–and she writes true flash fiction, in the Thimbleful level of words, closer to 400 and less. I’m massively envious. I’ve seen some of her work and I can’t even fathom how she puts so much into so few words. There is truly an amount of skill that goes into this, and I just don’t have it–at least not yet. Maybe I should ask her for some pointers.
However, my own work has been an interesting subject of conversation back in grad school–and based more on the longer length that I put out. My final manuscript (which became SON OF THE REVOLUTION) was a solid 150 pages or so over the maximum count the program allowed. I had to get special dispensation from my mentor to submit it at that length. In our free-write periods, we’d be given something like 30-40 minutes to write whatever we wanted, usually to a prompt she provided, and we were just set loose.
…This is the author who’s been doing NaNo since 2006. Who started roleplaying back in 2003 or so, and was constantly pushed to write more and write faster by those who wrote with me. My friends wanted the story to continue; we couldn’t half-ass our posts. We were all too dedicated. I’ve routinely done the 1k in 30 minute challenge during the word sprints in November, and hit it easily. According to the word document window I’m in, right now, I’m at around 850 words or so and I’ve been writing for 22 and a half minutes. Thereabouts. That’s including the fact that part of that time was me messing around and finding a battle to win (since I’m writing in 4thewords) and part was being distracted by Youtube, and part was just me staring at the screen wondering what I was going to talk about. This isn’t always my forte.
So I’d sit down for these free-write periods and I’d type out something like three and a half pages on my laptop by the end of it–and it was only that short (yes, I consider that short) because I spent a good chunk of time trying to figure out what to write. Most of my classmates would get maybe a page, and they’d just sit there marveling that I’d written so much–and as one of my friends told me, “it’s not crap. You write that fast, and it’s decent quality.” (Actually, that may have been my mentor. Not sure.)
(Also, just hit over 1000 words, and I’m at 25 minutes.)
This is second nature to me. I write quickly, and I use a lot of words. Do I need all of them? Probably not. But this is the style of writing I use, and this is the way that I like to write. But it makes writing for submissions difficult.
What do you all think? Do you find it easier to keep yourself to a small word count, or do you find yourself wishing for ten thousand words? Let me know in the comments below; I’d love to hear from you. And if you have any tips for keeping yourself short-winded…let me know that too. 😉 I could use the help.
(1141 words, 27 minutes.)