Jennifer Hillier

Short shorts

Jul 27, 2009 | Uncategorized

I just finished the first draft of Obituary.  It’s the first short story I’ve written in years.

I forgot how much fun it is to write shorts.   In and out, bada bing bada boom.   None of that six months crap to get a first draft down, then six months more of revisions.  I started last Tuesday, finished today, and I must say it’s supremely satisfying to write something with a beginning, middle and end in less than a week.

Make no mistake, it’s still awful. Remember what Hemingway said?  “The first draft of anything is shit.”  So, short or no, it needs a complete rewrite.   Or nine or ten.  As quick as the process may be in comparison to writing novels, I think you have to be exceptionally talented to write a good short because every word matters.  If you put too much in and the reader starts skimming, the story won’t make sense.   If you take too much out in an effort to be vague and literary, the story won’t make sense.  There’s a craft to this I don’t really have a feel for yet, and I might never have it.

For instance, the pacing is different.  With novels I like to keep things at a low simmer until it’s time to boil. I can take my time developing characters and situations.  But I don’t even know if character development is possible in a short. Obituary is 2,500 words long – how much can a character grow in ten pages?  I’d say this story is more like a snapshot of something larger.

Everything I’ve studied about writing up till this point has revolved around novel-writing.  So why would I spend time writing a short?  Can’t say, really.  I was getting ready for bed last week and a little seed blossomed as I was moisturizing.  I stayed up late writing after that happened, because a lot of my ideas don’t go anywhere.

I’m not an ideas girl.  It’s just not my strength.  I can take someone else’s idea and twist it and make it better, but my brain just doesn’t sprout amazing ideas from nowhere like some writers I know.   I have one writing friend whose imagination is so fertile it’s like his brain is a Chia Pet. He has a fabulous new story idea practically every month.  Mind you, they often don’t get past the conceptualization stage.  And therein lies my strength.  When I get an idea, I run with it as far as I can.  Because I don’t get very many.  Maybe one good idea a year, if I’m lucky.

Gee.  I hope this short story isn’t it for 2009.