Brushing up on writing short stories

It’s been said that writing short stories is one of the most difficult forms of writing. You have to pack quite a bit of information into a very small amount of space, and this doesn’t just include story and characters. Some of the best short stories also have underlying themes that readers can connect with. Those are the kind of stories that leave an impression on you long after you’ve finished reading it, the kind that makes you think about abstract ideas or feel emotions that might otherwise be unreachable.

I realize this is kind of Storytelling 101, but it’s important to remember especially when you’re writing short stories. Sometimes it’s easy to let the plot get away from you, and the characters to move on ahead, and suddenly you’re left grasping for that underlying theme that really should mesh your world together. It’s the resonant theme that leaves you’re audience with an addictive, breathless feeling that they’ll want to see again.

As a writer, I’ve felt that pinpointing the theme in my own stories is difficult, and although I like writing what I would call ‘entertaining’ stories, I feel like I’m at a good point to try my hand at some deeper work. Kind of how an actor who has played in several action bits is now ready to tackle their first drama. So I’ve started sprucing up my storytelling abilities by listening to some experts at work. Recently I started subscribing to Clarkesworld Magazine and PodCastle on my iPod to help give me some inspiration and to see how the experts do it. One of the stories that really left an impression on me was “All the Painted Stars” by Gwendolyn Clare (audio). This story really captures the kind of mind-altering science fiction that sucks you in and grasps your view of the world so tight that your mind keeps returning to it again and again. Really wonderful stuff, and learning to mingle that kind of magic into my own work is really my ultimate goal, and probably any writer’s goal.

Over the last few days I’ve frequently been left with that breathless feeling, and through the process, I think I’m gaining a better grasp of this elusive overarching theme. When writing novels, it seems a bit easier to take hold of your themes and highlight them, but like I said, in short stories you have to do all that work in a far shorter span of time. It’s definitely a challenge, but perfecting short story writing ought to lend support to novel writing as well, right? I guess I’ll be answering that on down the road.

On a side note, my entertaining horror/western Night Feeders has gotten some excellent reviews over at Goodreads and Amazon. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend picking up a sample. Thanks to Jennifer Moody for giving it a shot despite being uncertain of the genre, and writing such an honest review!

What do you do to improve your writing abilities in your chosen medium? Who do you consider to be experts in your area?

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