So today, I'm pleased to welcome our first guest, Theresa Milstein from the Substitute Teacher's Saga. She's agreed to share some of her writing experiences, and especially how she came to write short stories above and beyond her novel aspirations.
Short Story Journey
Short-story writing requires an exquisite sense of balance. Novelists, frankly, can get away with more. A novel can have a dull spot or two, because the reader has made a different commitment.
When I began writing nearly five years ago, it was a middle grade novel that wound up being 65k words. Then I made a leap to YA, and most of my stories hover around 50k. Since blogging, I’ve gobbled up advice on how to be a successful writer. One constant has been to write for magazines to get my name out there and build a resume.
A few years ago, I had tried to take my first manuscript and turn it into a short story. After sending it to three or four places, I received all rejections. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t create a short story by pulling the first chapter (or two) of a novel. Longer stories introduce too many elements in the beginning and they don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Those rejections convinced me to stop wasting my time.
Sometimes I’d come across a writer’s blog, mentioning some contest or upcoming anthology that requested short story submissions. I’d comment, “Thanks for the link, but I don’t write short stories.”
It was with the same conviction as when I’d say, “I only write fantasy,” because every time I had tried to write a manuscript without a magical element, I’d lose interest.
Then I wrote this YA vampire manuscript Aura. Agents and editors said nice things about it, but they didn’t want to take a chance on another vampire story. I knew this was the possible outcome the day I couldn’t ignore the story forming in my mind and began to write it. After a bunch of rejections, I shelved it and began something new.
Then my blogging friend, Aubrie at Flutey Words mentioned an upcoming YA anthology called Fangtales from Wyvern Publications. They’d previously published Fangtales and Mertails.
Aubrie is the most prolific chick I know. She’s always got a long piece and one or more short pieces she’s working on. She submits everywhere, and it’s paid off because she has a list of publishing credits.
While I had ignored all her other links for short story submissions, I couldn’t deny this one interested me. YA and vampires. Should I take Aura and reduce it? I loved her voice and didn’t want the manuscript to gather dust in my hard drive. But if I revised it to make a story that fit the 2k-5k guidelines, would I be able to do anything with the full story in the future? By now, I also knew pulling chapters didn’t create a quality short story.
One thing I liked about Aura was her strong voice. Most of my female characters start off unsure, but then obtain moxie later on in the story. Not Aura. As I mulled over what to do with my old story, a new one began to form in my mind. One Saturday, I sat down and began to write “Allured”.
What type of writer are you, a plotter or a panster? I’m a panster. I get a first line or a basic idea of the beginning, and then I just write. There’s nothing more exciting to me than bumbling along like a rock skipping down a stream to see where my story takes me. I wrote the same way I did longer pieces, but had to be sparer with my words. Each one had to count so I could keep the word count under control.
But I had newfound confidence because as a blogger, I’d learned to write pieces at just around 1k. Now I just had to write at least 1k more, and make it fiction instead of nonfiction. I could do that, right?
I’d often eye my number of words at the bottom of the document. When I reached what I thought was the middle – the turnaround moment – I realized I’d be fine.
One thing I’ve learned from reading short stories is that there’s always some big unanswered question at the end. As I wrote, and the end became clear to me, I got more and more excited because I had a most short-story-like ending, which has less closure than a novel.
After I completed the story, I did the usual editing, and gave it to three readers who gave suggestions, and I edited again. The difference between a novel and short story is it all happened quickly. A short story has fewer plots, and therefore, fewer plot HOLES. There were fewer characters to keep track of, fewer words to mess up with spelling and grammar errors. Was I beginning to like writing short stories?
Whether or not my story is going to be accepted, I don’t yet know. The decision will be made in March. But if it’s not chosen, I will consider revising again, and search for another home for it.
In January, a short story anthology was advertised for 500-1000 words – the length of my typical blog entry.
(Want to read the rest of Theresa's Story? Visit Charity's blog for the second part of the saga.)
A HUGE thank you to Theresa for sharing her story with us today. If you haven't already, be sure to check out Theresa's blog.
Has Theresa's story inspired you to try your hand at shorter fiction? Join us for the HONE YOUR SKILLS Blogfest. Write a short story (750-1000 words) and get instant feedback from fellow bloggers.
Have you ever tried your hand at short story writing? Have you had anything published? Would you like to share your story? Email me at rlconnolly01 [at] gmail [dot] com.