There was some little to-do recently about short stories being little more than a learning exercise for longer form works. I’ll talk about the merits of short fiction as stand-alone entertainment another time, but I wanted to talk about my own experience with writing in the medium.
You may be aware that I have a short fiction collection out (you may be aware I have a Kickstarter for it. You may not have backed it. Please rectify this). This wasn’t my original intention; I didn’t really pay much attention to many short stories (though there are some I have always loved). I considered myself a long-form guy, and never thought I’d write much short stuff. But as I worked on the 3024AD universe, I liked the idea of a lot of short stories set in that universe, around ostensibly minor characters. I started writing some (‘The Bounty‘ was the first, if you’re curious, although ‘The Gathering Storm’ I started first, but later re-wrote), and they began to form a major part of the universe, and my writing projects in general.
But I learned something from writing them, something that applies to long and short form, and that has to do with the words. In long form, it’s a sandbox. You can go anywhere, do anything, and I always viewed that as a positive. You can explain Every. Little. Detail. But is that really so good?
Allow me to back up- growing up I loved The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan. Needless to say, I was ridiculously excited for A Song of Ice and Fire and devoured the first couple books. But the same problem started to creep in that had killed my loved for The Wheel of Time. I remember thinking this is never going to end, is it? I don’t know if it’s because you never kill the golden goose, or it’s just that fun to write, or what, but Robert Jordan died writing WoT, and I’m pretty sure GRRM is going to do the same.
The words because wasted to me. It wasn’t even information overload- it was why am I even reading about this? I love details as much (more) than the next person, but there comes a point where it doesn’t contribute to the story.
And that’s what I have learned from writing short fiction- not to leave out details, but to make sure the right words are used, that they have weight and bearing on the story. To be sure, it’s improved my longer-form work, but I think it’s a good lesson that applies across the field. If each word carries weight and adds to the story, it will be richer and vibrant, without the lulls and clutter so common to scifi and fantasy.