26 October 2011

Re-learning the importance of the short story

I've just finished reading a collection of short stories by Dean Koontz, one of my favourite writers.  It is called Strange Highways and shows his impressive versatility with very different stories.  The best bit for me, however, was at the end, where he has a twelve page note to readers about the craft of short story writing. Koontz says the secret of success is to really enjoy the process of writing – even when a page is on its twenty sixth redraft and still isn't working. He also acknowledges that literary agents don't really encourage short stories, as the limited markets tend not to pay very well.

This got me thinking. All writers have ideas that may one day make it into a full length book but I suspect that most, like me, rarely bother to work them up as a short story. I remembered reading a really good book about how to write short stories years ago – and managed to find it again.  It's called "The way to Write Short Stories" by Michael Baldwin (a quick check on Amazon revealed 14 copies going for as little as £0.01)   As well as writing a dozen novels, Michael has judged international writing competitions and has some great tips for anyone interested in short story writing.  This little book is also packed with examples that highlight the potential to craft a worthwhile short story from just about anything, from notes of overheard conversations to three random objects.  

Ultimately, of course, the way to write a good short story is to just write.  He reminds us that "one word on the page is worth a whole story planned in your head."  Similarly, it helps to resist being too critical of your own work.  One of the attractions for me of the National Novel Writing Month challenge is the freedom to just write without worrying about how good it is.  Revision is another step in the creative process – and to leave the last word to Michael  Baldwin "If you feel entirely contented with your product [writing], you have substantial grounds for alarm."     

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