So You Want To Write Short Stories

Brian HaydenWhen I think back just a couple of years ago, writing short stories was the furthest thing from my mind. I know that because I have no memory of wanting to write short stories until about a year ago. I remember thinking that I needed a diversion from writing these memoirs. I was still waiting for my new heart, but was on the list. Still, I was keeping a journal which would one day be converted into a book, “Road To Transplant” and I was looking to shake things up a bit. You know, write fun stories instead of “when am I going to die” stories. I made up my mind. I was going to write a book of short stories.

I sat at my desk, looked at the key board…nothing! Then it occurred to me – I do not know how to write a short story! I am not even certain that I could define “Short Story”. After a moment of contemplation, followed by that sick feeling of realization that I don’t know what I am doing, I set off to find out.

I began my research as I normally would. I brought up a search engine and typed in “short story”. Definitions, structure, formulas all came pouring out from the computer. Slowly and methodically I studied each reference. Reading carefully…yes – yes… GOT IT! The answer to my question was this: Ask 1,000 scholars to define a short story and you will receive 1,000 different responses. I read the material again. Over and over, I sifted through all of the information. In the end, I drew my own conclusions, and set my own parameters. I will have a beginning, a middle and an end! My stories will be between 4,000 words and 8,000 words. Agree – disagree. I don’t care. My short stories are formatted like that. I do, however reserve the right to change my mind anytime it suites the story. So what is right? You decide. Just don’t write a novella and pass it off as a short story. That is unless it makes you feel good.

Now I have my definition, but it would sure help if maybe I read some short stories. I figured that I could get comfortable if I read three or four short stories. But whose short stories should I read? It should be someone who is successful in writing short stories. Let me look in Amazon’s Kindle store. After a few minutes my inner voice screamed: SCORE!!!! Did you know there are free Kindle books? I had no idea. I poured through the titles like a child would pour through their gifts at Christmas.  Chekhov…he was a famous guy, wasn’t he? Let me start with him. I downloaded a book called, “Complete Works of Anton Chekhov”. I began reading.

There were dozens of short stories. First I read them in the order they showed up in the book. What wonderful stories. His sentences, and the way he put together words was…incredible. After reading his stories, I sat and thought. Thought…and thought. Then it occurred to me. This guy is a great writer. His stories have passed the test of time. I asked myself: Why? The answer was staring right at me. Before I answered myself, I read the stories again. This time, I sorted them in chronological order, from his first short story to his last short story. Do you know what I discovered? The more he wrote, the better he got. MY TEACHERS WERE RIGHT!  If you want to be good – at anything, then you must practice.

I needed a way to check my thesis. My next book was “The Complete Works Of Leo Tolstoy”. I am not trying to get 19th century Russian writers, they simply appeared to me. As I read through his stories,  two truths became clear. First – short stories come in all shapes and sizes. While there are general parameters, there is a wide birth given to writers. Secondly, great writers write great because they write great quantities of great writing. hahaha. I’m sorry. I got started and had to finish. In other words, the more they wrote, the better they got. I thought to myself – I said “Brian, we have got some work to do”.

If you include some of the stories that I’ve written for my other books and blogs, I may have reached 200 short stories. Plus the 5 short stories I included in my new book. I am on my way, but if I want to get real good at writing short stories, I am going to have to write another book! Oh. I am. Look for it this fall.

In the mean time, my fellow writers, pick up your pens, plug in your key boards or do whatever you must do to prepare yourself for a day of writing. Life is good, and those short stories aren’t going to write themselves.

short stories final

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