March 1, 2009

Short Stories

By: Dorinda Ohnstad

Until recently, I have vehemently pronounced that I am not a short story writer. In fact I hadn’t written a single short story since graduating from high school thirty years ago. Periodically I would be encouraged by critique partners to tackle short stories and seek out contests and publishing opportunities as a way of building my resume. Each time I dug in my heels and declared “I am not a short story writer!”

Sometimes I would consider writing a short story, but just thinking about it made my head throb. Bottom line, I realized short stories are extremely hard to write. Telling a complete story with less than 5,000 words seemed to me a near impossible feat—only mastered by those with far greater talent than I could ever hope to develop. In my book, the best thing to do was not to try at all. You can’t fail if you never try.

I lived blissfully with my short story aversion until I read a Murderati blog posting by Toni McGee Causey. The blog’s content about the power of writing elicited visceral emotions in me that plagued me nightly. Over the next few weeks these emotions morphed into a clear story in my head that screamed to be released onto the pages of my computer screen. Believe me I tried to push the story to the back of my psyche so I could move forward with my novel, but the story gave me no choice.

I had to write the story to clear the path for returning to my novel, so I relented. In fact, I spent more than a month editing and refining the story, with the help of my invaluable critique partners, until it was ready for submission. This week I sent it off. When, if, or where the story may be published or recognized I don’t know. That’s not the important outcome of my short story foray. What’s important is what I learned in the process. I was right; short stories are a beast not easily conquered. What I didn’t realize however, was how tackling the task would make me a better novelist.

In writing a short story, every word counts. You must search your vocabulary for the one perfect word, rather than make do with two or three mediocre ones. Words with double meanings within the story become gems, like a Scrabble triple word score. Each sentence has to move the story forward or it needs to go. Repetition and lazy writing can’t be tolerated. In other words, to write a good short story, a writer has to use the tools of the craft to their umpteenth degree, and in the process it taxes your skills and makes you a better writer.

I look forward to translating my newfound skills to my long-fiction writing, and have no doubt that it will make my writing pop and sizzle in a way I never before dreamed possible.



At March 1, 2009 at 8:20 AM , Blogger F. M. Meredith, author said...

Good for you! I'm not much of a short story writer--have had two published in anthologies but I sweated blood to write them.

On the other hand, I write short novels. When I'm done, I'm done.

Good luck with your new-found talent.

aka F. M. Meredith

At March 1, 2009 at 12:46 PM , Blogger Sunny Frazier said...

Your efforts were worth the work. I saw you struggle--my lord, how many times did we go over the darn thing? What you didn't tell folks is that you took the same story and cut the word count even lower for another possible contest. I'm not sure many writers could do that. Also, you put the bar higher by writing a story within a story. Not easy to pull off. You rocked it.

At March 1, 2009 at 4:37 PM , Blogger Hot Mama O' Two said...

You did a great job, Dori. Your hard work and talent shined!


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