I really appreciate the invitation, and the topic challenge. I never really put much thought into how I came to write short form stuff. It kind of evolved, but reflecting upon that, hopefully, leads me to a good article.
Once upon a time, I wanted to write a novel. I picked up my iPad and started typing away with no idea what I was doing. I had no idea what the rules were, or that they even existed. Looking back, it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my writing career.
The final product sucked, but I didn’t know that at the time. I kind of wandered from one cool idea to the next without much of a game plan. What I wound up with was quite a bit like a television series. The same characters engaged in tiny vignettes that were kind of cool. Archaeologist might look at those one day and decide they were my first short stories. (They certainly weren’t a novel.)
I’ve always loved short form stuff, and in many ways prefer it to a novel length work. Time is a big factor for me, and I really dig a story I can complete in one session. Prior to that first “practice” novel, I read lots of Poe, O’Henry, and magazines. I enjoy some of the ones dedicated to short stories, like Hitchock’s, Ellery Queen, and others. It never really occurred to me to write my own.
From magazines, I wound my way into comics. I think this is a wonderful way to tell a story, and there are some great graphic novels out there these days.
My Blog, Entertaining Stories, had been live for about a year when October rolled around. I wanted to do something on my blog that felt like Halloween. I enjoy reading a kind of micro-fiction called Creepy Pasta. I thought I might try my hand at that.
I did some snooping around, and someone has a website by that name. I probably have no legal worries, but didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes either. Who knows, that person might someday prove to be an ally in my self publishing journey. I came up with the name Macabre Macaroni instead.
I posted a complete story per week during October, and my blog stats spiked. One of them was the most popular post I ever made for a long time, and it’s still in my top ten. I decided the short form still had fans somewhere out there, and did a bit of digging.
Traditional publishing shunned the short form. Oh sure, some of the biggest name authors can get away with a book of short stories, but for the rest of us it’s pretty limited. Amazon changed all that for us. These days, novellas, novelettes, short stories, and even poetry are making a comeback.
I’m a big believer in challenging myself, and include a personal challenge in all of my novels. It might be unnoticed by the reader, but it forces me to grow and improve. I approached short stories with that mindset. I’ll never know if I can write one until I write one.
I scoped out my competition, and many of them offered a single short story for 99¢. Others were writing a series, and offering a prequel for 99¢. I decided to offer a book full of short stories, and micro-fiction, for 99¢. It seems like a better deal, and it sells pretty well for me.
I searched for the rules once again, and there aren’t many. Sites offer up word count for the various lengths, but none of them seem to agree. Therefore; I reject their reality and substitute my own. I break it down this way:
- Flash Fiction = one paragraph
- Micro Fiction = a decent blog post. 1000 words, pushing my luck at 1500
- Short story = 5000 to 30,000 words
- Novella = 30,000 to 80,000 words
- Novel = 80,000 words and up
It used to bother me that there are holes in my list. It also bothered me that novelette didn’t find a home. Today, I really don’t care. The actual story is more important than the pigeonhole it goes in. As a self publisher, I don’t have to conform to a bunch of categories that different websites define differently anyway.
My short form tales are also proving grounds for me. I called the first book The Experimental Notebook for a reason. Short form allows me to experiment with new things. I recently wrote one that I’m pretty excited about as a big monologue. It would never work as a novel, but I think it’s a great short story. I also wrote my first epistolary style story as a short story.
At some point, I’m going to put out a second Experimental Notebook. The first one sells well, and I’ve gotten some wonderful reviews. It can also be looked at as a gateway drug into my novels. Someone might take a 99¢ chance, and decide one of my novels might be fun.
I write speculative fiction, and for me the fences are pretty far apart. My stuff varies from paranormal to science fiction, and the occasional fantasy. This gives me plenty of room to keep things fresh, and the short form stuff does the same.
I hope I’ve encouraged some of you to take a chance on short form. As writers, you can try new things without dedicating months to a project to see if it works. Now you can use those cool ideas that won’t carry an entire novel. As readers, you can enjoy a complete story on your commuter bus, or coffee break.
If you’d like to check out some of mine, you can read The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack here: http://a-fwd.com/asin-com=B014S2BA4U
A speculative selection of micro-fiction and short stories. These were designed to be short reads for your commute, coffee break, and other times when readers are pressed for time. This book contains a bit of science fiction, some fantasy, and paranormal stories.
I’m excited to see short fiction returning in popularity. I hope you will enjoy these stories as much as I did.
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