True Love of Short Stories

True Love of Short Stories

I’ve never really been a short story writer. Even that phrasing is misleading, because it suggests I’ve dabbled in short stories, but frankly, they’ve always eluded me. Any attempts at short fiction always turned into the first chapter of a novel, or lacked anything you might call a plot, even when you squinted.

I know that a lot of writers cut their teeth on short stories. Why not? They’re quicker to write than novels, with more opportunities to gain some publishing credits, even if only in small magazines and local zines. But I never got the hang of them, and when it came to writing competitions, I gravitated towards poetry.

It’s been months since I last wrote a poem, though. Months since I believed I’d be finishing my fourth collection (provisionally titled Here There Are Monsters) any time soon, since poetic skill seems to have deserted me entirely.

An inability to write poems was also the subject of several of my more recent ones…

And the world of novels is an agonisingly slow one, which I’m acutely aware of as I wait for any request or feedback from my Pitch Wars submission.

(For those unaware: it’ll be six weeks before I find out for sure whether I’ve been picked for this mentorship programme. Since the submission only included a query, synopsis, and first chapter, if a mentor is considering me they’ll probably request a partial or full manuscript. I’ve heard it’s possible to get picked without a request, but it sounds fairly unlikely. At this stage, it’s requests I’m waiting for.)

Back in 2015, I wrote a bunch of short stories for NaNoWriMo. They were based on folk songs, which helped me out somewhat, because the plot — or at least the basics — were already provided, and I just had to figure out how I wanted to skew them. Even so, it was a tough month, and I think the main reason I reached my wordcount target was because I abandoned the short stories and worked on a fanfic for half the month, counting that in my total words.

By far the best of these (in my opinion, at least) was one called True Love of Mine, based on the song Scarborough Fair. (Mostly the Simon & Garfunkel version. I like the harmonies.) It was written in second person, which was fairly unusual, and has the dubious honour of being (a) the most romantic thing I’ve ever written and (b) the only appearance of blood-drinking selkies in my writing. I have no idea if blood-drinking selkies are actually a thing, but they worked, so I’m keeping that.

Yesterday, I dug out this story for the first time since November 2015, and rewrote it. I got it down to below 5,000 words, improving the prose somewhat in the process, and you know what? I’m proud of it.

The original cover I created for NaNo 2015. Each story had its own cover for Wattpad, but I’ve lost the one for TLoM.

Plus, it was really nice to just… sit down and write something, and then finish it. In one session.

It looks nothing like my novels. It’s lyrical and descriptive, with a substantial romance element (albeit with a narrator of unspecified gender, making it Schrodinger’s queer representation). My novels, on the other hand, are full of murder and decidedly lacking in description. As for romance? Don’t know her. But just because it’s nothing like my novels doesn’t mean it’s not good, or even that it’s not me. It’s just different.

So then I thought to myself, I should do this more often. And I thought, I should do something with this story. Enter it into a competition or submit it to a magazine or something.

The idea has… grown on me. Obviously, there are a few considerations to take into account:

  1. The first draft of this story was posted on Wattpad. While it’s now been ‘unpublished’ and also rewritten, it’s still essentially the same story, and I don’t know whether it would count as ‘previously published’ — some exclude things like Wattpad, others don’t. That might affect how many places I could submit it to.
  2. Obviously, it still needs more editing; a single redraft is probably not enough.
  3. I currently don’t have the money to pay competition entry fees. I thought I did! Then I discovered I have -£28 in my bank account, so I guess not :O
  4. It’s nearly 5k in length, and while I’m fairly sure that still counts a short story, some places have smaller wordcount limits.
  5. I should probably try and write a few more short stories and see if this one is a fluke.

(5) is easily fixed. I want to edit a few more of the stories I wrote in 2015, but I’ll try and draft a couple more — maybe some not based on folk songs, although that means coming up with ideas, and ideas are hard. (3) is also easily fixed as I’m due to get paid in the next few days, though competition fees do add up quickly and I’ll need to be very picky about how many I enter. And (2) was a given.

(1) and (4) are harder, but if I’m selective with the entry requirements of places I submit to, I think it ought to be okay.

I’m also planning to send out some poems. I held back on submitting some of my favourites to competitions and magazines because I thought I might want to include them in Here There Are Monsters, and I didn’t want to run into any problems there, but since I really don’t think that’ll happen any time soon, I may as well just send them out.

Having decided all that, there’s only one question remaining: what name should I submit them under? Since everything so far has been under the name Miriam Joy and I’m not settled on a new professional name, I guess it has to be that. One of these days I’ll make a decision about it…

Anyway, that’s the plan! I’m distracting myself from novel-submission-anxiety by… giving myself short-fiction-submission-anxiety instead. Well, I’ll start with trying to muddle through the process of actually writing it. I have no idea where to find short story ideas (all my ideas are novel-sized), so any tips are appreciated.

This week on my book blog I reviewed C.G. Drews’ A Thousand Perfect Notes and Alice Oseman’s I Was Born For This, with a review of Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody coming tomorrow. All of these are books by people I interact with online (especially Cait and Amanda), and they’re all hugely overdue reviews, too. Sorry guys. I’m a bad friend.

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5 thoughts on “True Love of Short Stories

  1. There is an adage that any story can be any length; only the author’s mind makes a story seem long or short.

    That said, a short story is generally a few characters rather than many and a single plot rather than a main arc and several sub-arcs. So, perhaps the best starting point for ideas is to write a bunch of brief characters on pieces of paper (e.g. elven salesperson, polite cat, one-legged dancer), pick two at random, then have them trying to do something utterly mundane (e.g. buy a bagel, knit a sweater).

    1. Starting with characters is a good idea! I’ll have a play around with some at the weekend, see what I can come up with. I rarely try and consciously create ideas (novels just kind of… happen), so it’s a new experience.

  2. I loved that short story, I read it when you first posted it on Wattpad. Good luck with any future submissions – it’s so frustrating to have to pay to submit something, I’m in the same boat being a broke college student. I took a creative writing class a few terms ago and we focused on short stories, which is not my strong suit either, but it was actually quite fun. Definitely a different experience than writing a novel.

    1. Thank you! I wondered if anyone would remember it particularly. And yeah — I wouldn’t trust any magazine that charged a fee, but competitions often have to in order to cover costs / prize money, and I understand that.

      I’ve never actually taken a creative writing class, unless you count English lessons at school, which I don’t. I can see them being useful for things like short stories, though, and sometimes I wonder if I’ve missed out. But I think the most important part of learning to write is, well, writing, and I can do that part by myself.

      1. I don’t think you’re missing out. Although it was a good class, I think I learned more useful things from my childhood of reading and writing. Like you say, writing is the only real way to learn to write and no class can replace that! The main thing I got from the class was a little more confidence in my writing and a critique partner. I’m still much more a fan of novels than short stories :)

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