I find myself using the word verylately, as in something is very important or very stupid. (I also use really in a similar fashion, and actually, but I’m going to stick with very today.)
If something’s important (or stupid), how does does very make it more so? Aren’t the words important and stupid explicit enough on their own without having to define degrees of importance and stupidity? Grammatically speaking, how correct is it to modify an adjective with another adjective?
Why do we use adjectives anyway? Sure, the red car distinguishes it from the blue and green ones but why do we have to say the green grass? Yep, in places like Montana grass turns dirt brown in the dryness of summer but, otherwise, it’s green … and don’t we all know that?
Same thing with adverbs. Yes, the earth spins slowly on its axis. I suppose it might be important to stress the fact to someone who’s very stupid but, really, how many people are so stupid they think the earth spins quickly on its axis? And if someone were that stupid, why would you be talking about the earth’s axis anyway?
All kidding aside, I understand the value of adjectives and adverbs. I’m just practicing a more judicious use of them lately.
After posting my last blog post, Francis Powell reached out to me from across the pond to share his take on short stories. Powell was born in England and currently lives in France, where he writes prose and poetry. This is what he had to say:
Like a thirty second advertisement, with a short story you have to pack a lot of information into a short space. You need to put an explosive first sentence that grabs the reader’s attention right from the off and immediately grabs their attention.
I have read short stories that are fairly abstract, but my short stories can have a variety of characters and a strong defined theme that runs through them. There is dialogue and a certain amount of description. Everything has to be concise and the stories can’t go off on any wild tangents, which is not the case with novels, where maybe one chapter can be totally different from another.
There are advantages to short stories. The writer can put a lot of energy into the story and it can be written in a morning or afternoon, during a period when the writer is inspired and has an urge to externalize an idea that perhaps popped into their heads. A writer of short story can imagine the beginning as well as the end of the story, right from the off. There can be a lot of freshness and spontaneity with short stories.
People might see a short story in the same way that people in the world of art might see a sketch as opposed to an old painting. A lesser creative art form.
It is true to say that a writer can develop their style by starting off by writing short stories. This was how I developed. When I first attempted to write, I tried to write a novel. It was a disaster; I lacked the skill and technique. It was through writing short stories that my style developed.
I remember as a child reading short stories by Roald Dahl, who produced a considerable number of short stories. What struck me was that he always placed an unexpected twist at the end of his stories.
I guess most genres work with short stories, but horror stories in particular seem to being more successful, with “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe often being praised as a great work. MR James is often considered as a forerunner of the great horror writers that would follow.
Women have contributed some great horror stories, such Daphne du Maurier, who provided the ideas behind three Alfred Hitchcock films. If you have seen a memorable and extremely disturbing film called “Don’t Look Now,” which stars Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, perhaps you are unaware it originated from a Daphne du Maurier short story.
For the reader, the advantage of short stories or collections of short stories is that they are not lumbered with long stories which they feel obliged to finish. They offer different tastes and flavours, like an array of hors d’oeuvres.
Publishers might frown at short stories, because they imagine that they don’t sell like novels do. My advice is if you are not reading short stories, try it, I am sure it will be a most rewarding.
Once upon a time, if you wrote short stories, you could make some serious money doing so. Nowadays, writing short stories isn’t so lucrative. At least not if you measure success in the form of money.
Four years ago, I entered the first short story I ever wrote to the 16th annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. I loved that story but sadly, it didn’t place in the top 25–which it needed to do to receive honorable mention and publication in the compilation edition.
I was really surprised that the story didn’t receive mention, so I decided to conduct some more research into the required elements of a short story. I should have done that in the first place. No matter how much we think we know about writing, or publishing, or the market–things are constantly changing and there’s stuff we simply don’t know. For a smart person, I do some pretty dumb things sometimes…
After conducting my research and taking months upon months for inspiration to strike so I could put that newly learned knowledge to work, I submitted my second short story to the 17th annual WD competition. Mama ranked 15th of more than 4,000 entries. (In reality, it ranked 16th and was fortunate enough to be booted up a place when one of the first 15 entrants withdrew his/her entry because it sold!) It was published in the compilation and has received some excellent reviews.
During the past couple of years, I’ve found writing short stories to be a gold mine in terms of cultivating idea, honing my craft, and … well … telling stories. I’ve taken the first couple of chapters of a book that never got past the first act and turned them into a short story. I’ve taken ideas that simply don’t support an entire novel, and turned them into short stories. Right now, I’m taking a personal issue I’ve had for some time and, I hope, am in the process writing a short story as a form of catharsis.
Will I actually publish it? Who knows? But I need to write every day and since writing these shorts seems to be helping me professionally, I’m fine with that. FYI, I revised that first short story and submitted it to a different competition earlier this year. I should know by the end of the month if it won.
Here are a few tidbits I came up with when research the writing of short stories, followed by some short story markets that interest me. Disclaimer: This is information that appeals to me–it may not appeal to you. Feel free to share resources and info that appeals to you. Other people will likely share your perspective:
Word count for short stories is typically between 1,500 and 7,500 words. Having said that, some markets routinely accept stories up to 10,000 words.
Flash fiction, or short short stories, are between 500 and 1,500 words. Micro flash fiction can be even fewer than 500 words.