It Ain't Easy (Not) Bein' Cheesy
I've had a hard time lately with a short story I've been working on for a free fantasy romance anthology. The theme of the story is pretty straightforward, and there aren't many rules. But, I started, and failed, two early attempts to write a good story inside the 17,000 word limit.
Why? I asked myself. Why could I not get a beginning, middle and end in 17,000 words? What is so danged hard about writing short? After seven or eight attempts to re-write the story I had to give up the premise and move on to something else entirely. I was stumped. What the heck was wrong with me? Surely I could create a love story with an interesting plot in 17,000 words. But...I couldn't!
Finally, the answer came to me as I discussed the issue with a beta reader and another writer. What I had in the early attempts was simply the beginning of a much longer story. No matter how hard I tried, I could not pare down the details to make it fit inside the word limit. Geez! Writing is hard.
I have learned that I have a particular disorder. Well, at the very least it's an obsession. See, I like to be clever. I like to sneak details and twists into my stories. I like to get my readers hyped up and then swoop in and break them down before I let them have their happy endings. (Yeah, I'm mean that way). Being clever, or attempting to, was holding me back in this case. What I needed was a straight forward story with a beginning, a middle and an end. I needed a clear-cut problem that could be solved in 17,000 words, and that left ZERO room for cleverness.
Now, there are writers who can include that clever 1-2 punch in a short story and they are very, very good. Better than me. I need time to build up, create innuendo and add a dash of clever here and there. I just don't have the chops (yet) to do clever in 17,000 words. Not with emotionally convincing characters and a plot that makes sense. SO-- my only option was to put the crunch on my need for cleverness, and just tell a story.
Why does that bother me, you ask? Because I LIKE CLEVER. I like to know I have the ability to build a plot in layers, along with a world and characters within that world. If I just write a story from Chapter 1 to Chapter 7 and on to The End, I'm just like every other author, right? There's nothing special about open book, read words, close book, right? That's where I figured out I was wrong. There IS magic in simple, straight forward storytelling. I get so caught up in my need to be clever that I forget that half the 1-2 punch I was looking for comes from the story itself. Not my egomaniacal need to be complicated. Sometimes life isn't complicated. Sometimes it's very, very simple. Man meets woman (or man) and falls in love. There are bumps and bruises along the way, but love endures. The end.
Finally, after much soul-searching (and calling myself names) I decided that I CAN do simple storytelling. Sometimes that is the most powerful way of touching a reader's heart and mind. My desire to create complicated plots and character motivations was holding me back from doing the one thing every author really wants to do: tell a good story.
So now I've moved on. The first attempt for the short story has been put aside for a possible future novel. (Novels can be more complex and as clever as they want.) I've curbed my ego and my enthusiasm for making a statement in my writing, and I've poured my heart into creating a story that does what it's supposed to do. Capture a reader. Pull them in and make them fall in love right along with the characters. They don't need clever. They don't need complicated. All it takes is a story worth telling.
Stay tuned for more introspective butt-kicking as I travel down this path as an author. I am still learning who I am and what I want in my writing, but I DO know that I want readers to find happiness and LOVE in my stories!
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