WORKING THE REALLY SHORT SHORT STORY

There is a famous short story attributed to Ernest Hemingway.  It is, all totaled, six words.  Here it is:

For sale:  Baby shoes, never worn.

That’s it.  The beauty of this mind and soul searching short story is the stuff of literary legend.  Every writer would like to write with that kind of clarity and depth.  Alas, Hemingway probably didn’t write it (or at least so says the experts–click here for more) but I like to think he did.  It certainly represents his minimalist styling and why let truth get in the way of a good story.

Last week I worked on a short story which I wrote for the Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition.  The maximum length for the story was 1,500 words.  That’s not many words, friends, but I wrote it for the challenge.

It has been hard to get back into the short story genre since I spent so much time on my novel in the past six months.  The novel format allows for exploration, character development, side-bars, sub-plots and greater description.  The short story requires laser-like focus.  In that regard a short story is more like a sermon, which is why I may have been driven to short stories when I first began writing.  For comparison, this particular short story I wrote would be about a 7 minute sermon.

I think it is a good story, though.  I really only have one main character and his conflict is within himself, so there are no bad guys.  He is contemplating suicide in my story but I had to get him to that point quickly.  Then I have to introduce means quickly and the resolution has to be very brisk.  Whenever I write something for publication or potential publication, I am usually working on some specific skills to improve my skill set.  Here is what I was working on for this particular story:

Point of View–It is mostly an internal monologue of the main character (who is nameless).

Pacing–If one only has 1500 words to work with, then the pacing must be swift and certain.  I found word choice and strong verbs to be my best ally here.  Hemingway would have been proud, maybe?

Proportion–I can’t spend 500 words describing the gun or how it feels in his hand or the back story of why he has his father’s 1911 in the nightstand to begin with or why he shot it two decades ago.  Instead, by keeping it tight in the narrative, hopefully the reader’s mind will create his or her own back story.  The weapon is not the story, so it must be shrunk to fit, even though it might be interesting.

Humor–Writing a story about suicide is not hard.  Writing a story about suicide that has humor is hard.  I was very pleased when one of the beta-readers, for all of whom I am so thankful, reported back that she liked what she called “the dark comedy” feel.  I knew then that I hit at least one target.

I can’t tell you much more about it, other than the name of it is The Rug and until the competition is over it belongs to Writer’s Digest.  Afterward, I will likely release it for purchase or if I win (he crosses fingers) you can buy it from them.  I may submit another one for the competition as I have a half-finished story about a geriatric murder.   In the meantime, I am starting this week my long promised origins story for the Deep Cove Monster series.  Because my publishing group wants longer entries, my main working goal for this story is to write it at 15,000 words.  If I do that, then I will not need to bundle it with anything else.  Once we creep up to 15 or 20,000 words it is less a short story and more of a novella.  I hate novellas.

 

IN CELEBRATION OF BLOGGING

This is my 100th blog!  I wouldn’t know this except for the fact that WordPress is meticulous in its statistical analysis of how well my blog does or how well my blog doesn’t.  I began blogging a year ago and have averaged two blog posts per week.  That was my goal when I began and I intend to maintain that pace, perhaps occasionally adding a third “bonus” blog in there from time to time.  As I’ve blogged, here are some things I’ve noticed and learned, or even observed about blogging.

  • All the experts I’ve read on it say that a perfect blog is about 500 words.  They are right.  Less than 500 words seems weak, more than 500 words becomes an essay.  I am guilty of writing essays; so this is something I need to work on as I move forward.  {this blog has 488 words}
  • Funny blogs do better than serious blogs in terms of re-postings and comments.  I don’t intentionally work to be funny, but my personality is sarcastic and humor comes somewhat natural to me.  Perhaps if I worked at it more I might get more views.
  •  It surprises me which old blog posts still get hits.  One of my early blogs was an analysis of the movie Megamind.  I get hits on that one almost every week.  Why?
  • As a writer I like to write about things that matter to me, like church, theology, preaching and such.  However, the posts that receive the most hits are those that are about current events.  Examples of this are posts I wrote about the killing of Bin Laden, Harold Camping, or Facebook.  In fact, these get ‘hit’ far more than others so much that at times I consider changing the blog to a current events blog.
  • I actually thought I would use my blog to communicate to my church, however, that has not really happened.  Only in times of crisis has my blog been helpful at disseminating information.
  • Bullets, numbering, and listing is better for blogging than paragraphs.  Reading on a computer screen is very difficult for many people (me included) therefore people can grab the information better if it is a list format.
  •  I’ve yet to find a layout for my blog that I like.  I do not know if this reflects my own predilection for content over style but the layouts offered by WordPress always leave me nonplussed.
  • I enjoy writing blogs about politics (like the debates etc…) but these are not very popular.  I am non-partisan and I think that most people only read political information that buttresses their own political views instead of challenges them.  I don’t think I will do that much more on the Pastor Greenbean Blog.

If you’re interested, here are my top five favorite posts.  Enjoy

PREACHING WITH THE AMAZON KINDLE

THE PERFECT GRILLED CHEESE

LNI SAFETY PLAN

FACEBOOK RULES I NEED TO REMEMBER

CADILLACS, BEEF, AND LIGHT BULBS