“Often writers think they have to add a bunch of characters and conflicts into their short stories, as if a very simple, inevitable story isn’t enough. That’s not true. What writers need to focus on instead is building the indelible richness of how that short story unfolds.”
Lindsey Lane is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “The Craft of Short Fiction: Telling the Story with Fewer Words and More Punch.” Crafting short stories requires great openings, vivid details, escalating tension, a tightly choreographed climax, and a perfect ten ending. This class is for all writers (beginning to advanced) who want to sharpen their short story writing tools.
Scribe: Some people consider short fiction to be a stepping stone for novel-length work. Do you agree?
Lindsey Lane: Short fiction can be a great way to practice and hone craft elements like plot and character development. In many respects, it’s whole lot easier to shape a story that is 2,500 words than one that is 60,000 words. But if you’re talking about a short work being a precursor to a long work, it definitely happens. Sometimes a short story feels like it has more potential. In my own case, Evidence of Things Not Seen began as a series of stories. My critique group saw potential in one of the stories that featured a missing boy and suggested I expand that character (or lack thereof) and weave his story line through the entire town. There a lots of other writers who have expanded short stories into longer works. Stephen King and Chris Bohjalian come to mind right away. So yes, writing short fiction can be a stepping stone to writing novels both in terms of practicing craft and seeing a greater potential in a story.
Scribe: What can writers expect when trying to submit short fiction for publication?
LL: The good news is there are a lot of digital and print outlets for short fiction. The bad news is they are often understaffed. So we need to make sure we are patient and persistent. And organized. It’s important to keep track of your submissions.
Scribe: Do you ever come across stories that are simply too ambitious for short form fiction? How do you suggest writers go about making the decision to commit their story to short form?
LL: I’ve coached writers on trimming and shaping their stories so they aren’t so “rangey.” Short fiction has to be leaner. What’s common to both long and short fiction is that writers need to begin at a place where the story that follows is inevitable. In long form, that inevitability has to be sticky enough to sustain a whole world. In short fiction, the inevitability can be much simpler. Often writers think they have to add a bunch of characters and conflicts into their short stories, as if a very simple, inevitable story isn’t enough. That’s not true. What writers need to focus on instead is building the indelible richness of how that short story unfolds.
Scribe: Short stories have been growing in popularity in recent years. In your opinion, are there any specific aspects of the short form that might be more appealing than the long form to contemporary writers and/or readers?
LL: Most obviously, we’re all pretty squished for time so it’s easier to dip into short fiction and experience (or create) a bit of another world. Especially an emotional one. I love that about short stories, how they suggest a mood or a feeling. It’s almost like you get to step into a world with a delicate fragrance. Some short stories feel like a light kiss on the cheek. You can step into a suggestion of a world without having to plod through the whole mess of it. I love that brief interlude with short fiction. Also, as a reader, I suppose you could get a taste for a writer’s style by reading her short stories before you commit to reading her novel.
Scribe: Do you have any short fiction you’d like to recommend to readers?
Everyone should read Vonnegut and study how he does humor. Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women is outstanding for its richness. Sherman Alexie’s use of dialogue in his short stories blows my mind. And short fiction for kids? I love Tim Wynne-Jones’s Some of the Kinder Planets. It is excellent.
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About the Instructor
Lindsey Lane is an award-winning playwright and children’s and young adult author. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut young adult novel Evidence Of Things Not Seen (Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2014) is a “unique, powerful novel,” said Francisco Stork, author of Marcelo and the Real World. Publisher’s Weekly said, that “offers a gripping and genre-bending mosaic centered around the sudden disappearance of physics-obsessed high school junior Tommy Smythe.” The Horn Book said, “Complex and rich, the story hints at Tommy’s fate, but with an open ending that is perfect for sparking discussion.” Lindsey is also the author of the award-winning picture book (Clarion) and iTunes app (PicPocket) Snuggle Mountain, illustrations by Melissa Iwai, which was named Best Children’s Book of 2004 by Bank Street College of Education. She lives in Austin, Texas with her family.