Tagged with "stories"
Why do we write short stories and who reads them?
Category: Writing
Tags: short stories readers writers

Why do we write short stories and who reads them?

The first question is easy to answer Ė in my case anyway Ė so Iíll start there.

  • Satisfaction comes more swiftly by writing a few hundred or a few thousand words than it does by completing a full-length novel.
  • Competitions give a chance to validate your work. Merely getting placed on a longlist can boost the spirit. No less the ego. As a writer lacking self-confidence, that gives me further motivation.
  • Writing 2000 words and winning one competition might earn you as much as writing a novel. Itís only a suspicion. I donít know. Often we writers say we donít write for money but it is kind of nice.

There are downsides. If the chances of success are there, the odds are high. And is it as satisfying to finish thirty or so short stories as it is to complete a full-length novel?

Although I write short fiction almost exclusively, 98% of my reading is novels, not short stories. I find the experience of full emotional engagement and immersion in the story, over several days or weeks, more satisfying. On the other hand, the high standard of writing required in a short story is hard to keep consistent in the longer form. Perhaps why I hesitate to go there myself.

So, who reads short stories?

  • Writers are more likely to read them than your average reader. Personally, before entering a competition I check out former winners if theyíre published on the site. A quick scroll determines the style of writing Ė literary or perhaps a mixture. Often I flash through to the end in an effort to gauge how conclusive they are. If you call that reading.
  • Short story anthologies, apart from the most prestigious perhaps, are mostly read by friends and family members of the authors. Free downloads are added to the statistics but there is no proof on how many stories are actually read.
  • The general public is more likely to buy a collection of stories if written by a celebrity (Tom Hanks comes to mind) or by a best-selling author Ė personally, I love Joanne Harrisís†ďJigs & ReelsĒ.†

The latter are the kind of books that build the sales figures and, as a recent Guardian article suggests, ďcreate the mythĒ that the short story is having a renaissance.†

But itís not all doom and gloom. †

In France a company called Short …dition†is trying to engage the public, both adult and younger readers, by offering free short stories in paper format in over 100 dispensers throughout France, mostly in railway stations. You can choose between a 1, 3 or 5 minute-long story.

This brilliant idea has caught on elsewhere. Francis Ford Coppola, a short story fan himself, has installed a dispenser in his Cafť Zoetrope in San Francisco. Other places in the States have followed suit, hoping that the novelty of reading fiction from a piece of paper will inspire children, and keep them Ė at least for a few minutes Ė from their digital screens.

Like any character in a good story, Iíve had a eureka moment. Writing this has inspired me to read more short stories and Iíve just ordered another collection.†

Getting organised Tags: Writers Abroad writing ex-pat writers filing system short stories

Do you ever feel fazed by the sheer volume of writing on your computer? If youíre like me and never delete anything (even if tempted to do so at times following rejection), you have several different versions of the same story and it can be hard to work out which is the current one. Word shows you when the most recent alterations were made to a document, but that doesnít always help.

I have been writing short stories in earnest for a little over six years now. A quick trawl through my fiction files a few months ago revealed that I had over 300 documents Ė some of them duplicates several times over. I was becoming thoroughly confused and even submitted the wrong version of a story to a competition on one occasion.

To impose some method on this madness, I decided to reorganise the lot. This took some time and I may not have come up with the best solutions, but itís a lot better than my previous system (or non-system).

Now I have folders labelled:

Stories Monday Muse Ė I have a lot of these and the nature of MM means that they nearly all need working on in some form before submission. So when I decide to do that I move the story to the next folderÖ

Stories in Progress Ė those Iím working on, whether for competitions or for my own entertainment.

Stories Submitted Ė when a story goes off to a competition, I move it to this folder, so I know exactly which version I sent off.

Stories Published Ė those that have been published in anthologies or placed in competitions and canít be submitted anywhere else.

Stories Finished Ė the final version of stories that I wonít work on anymore.

I also have an Excel spreadsheet for short story competition entries (although I donít enter that many these days). This lists:

  • The organisation organising the comp
  • Hyperlink to the competition rules on their website
  • Word count
  • Closing date
  • Cost
  • Story/ies I plan to submit with a hyperlink to the version on my computer that Iím working on
  • Date submitted
  • Result

I try to update the spreadsheet regularly with details of future competitions. At the moment, it goes up to September. I also colour code each line: yellow = story submitted, awaiting result; green = some success (longlisting upwards); red = didnít get anywhere (rather more of those).

All this probably sounds a bit anal and itís not infallible. Sometimes, for example, I forget to move a story into the relevant folder. But at least I feel I am getting on top of the mess that was my previous filing system.

How do you organise your work?

How many Drafts does it take?
Category: Writing
Tags: novels short stories drafts editing

How many drafts does it take?

Margaret Drabble says ĎIf I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.í A quote I cut out and taped to my laptop. She has a good point but obviously her writing reaches publishable level faster than mine. That comes from experience Ė and/or talent. So how many drafts should we write before we send things out? Can too much editing kill our prose? Or, like me, are you tempted to go on and on?

If I decide to resubmit a short-listed short story, first Iíll give it at least one more edit. I always hope that each new story I write will need less rewrites/editing. Iím dreaming of course. The more I learn the higher the standard I want to achieve. Hence, more and more drafts, until Iíve lost count. †

Itís not easy to research how many drafts successful short story writers actually write. I did try. Some admit to only three or less, although Ernest Hemingway purportedly changed the last sentence of one of his stories 147 times. I may have something in common with him then, as I change my own beginnings and endings ad infinitum.

Obviously, redrafting a novel is a massive task in comparison to reworking short stories. Famous novelists have different ways of approaching this. For example, Stephen King manages on three or four drafts. Anita Brookner only writes one draft as she is constantly editing all the way through. Tracy Chevalier once said she writes six drafts in longhand before her novel even makes it onto a computer. Letís hope, after all that work, it is finished. Returning to Hemingway, he is known to have changed the ending of ĎA Farewell to Armsí 47 times.

Writerís Digest suggest five edits and have an interesting online article on how to go about it here. There are many other similar articles on line, easily found with search engines.

For me, posting a piece of writing on this site is invaluable and doubtless saves me extra drafts Ė therefore, loads of precious time. Fellow membersí critiques, given from an objective viewpoint, make my next draft much more workable. How many drafts did I write of this blog? The answer is simple: not enough!

I tend to edit a short story until I canít bear the sight of it, then take a break for a week Ė if the deadline obliges, and itís well out of sight Ė and force myself to go through it one last time. By then Iíve definitely lost count and canít wait to see the back of it, so press Ďsendí, ready or not.

Now if youíll excuse me, Iíll just go and rewrite the end of my latest story for the tenth time. Only 137 more versions to go then!

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