Sunday, 14 September 2008

A short tale of mutant madness

I have a small problem.

To be more precise, I have a short problem.

Thanks to a lovely little virus – entovirus, according to the doc, and no, I shouldn’t have googled it – work on The Manx Giant ground to a halt until a couple of days ago, when I managed to move out of first gear for the first time in more than a week.

If there is one thing that time spent not writing is good for, it’s thinking of ideas for future projects, even when you know you shouldn’t because your current list is so long that you can’t remember them all without a wall chart and a secretary.

So I got to thinking, about short stories in the main, as they are not something I’ve ever really focused on. And I’ve been having weird little fantasies recently, about entering a short story competition and, you know, winning.

Then, as if guided by the hand of the good lady fate, the postman only goes and delivers through my door the October edition of Writers’ News and Writing Magazine, complete with a free supplement – an extensive guide to writing competitions for the coming twelve months. It’s a sign, I’m telling you.

So the ideas monkey goes into overdrive. And this is where my short problem comes in. It is no coincidence that my ideas list is dominated by plans for novels. I could scratch together a couple of short story proposals if I delved deep enough, but it would be a push.

I don’t know if this is a dilemma experienced by other writers. Maybe their ideas arrive pre-packed and perfectly formed, easily separated into files marked ‘novel’ and ‘short story’.

But the staff in my arrivals hall are somewhat confused. An idea for a novel will form, develop and arrive as it should. Yet the moment an idea for a short story rears its head, it’s set upon, dissected, operated on, all manner of weird appendages added to it, until by the time it staggers through the gates and is ready to be filed, it’s no longer a short story idea – it has been mutated beyond recognition and into a synopsis for a full-length novel.

This happens all the time. In one way it’s fantastic – should I ever make a breakthrough in fiction, I doubt I’ll ever run out of novel ideas. But it’s a pain the backside when you’re hoping to conjure up a few gems in a bid to tackle the short story market.

Unearthing the rough idea is no problem. But shaping it into something manageable that can be resolved within a few thousand words, well, it’s a skill I’ve yet to develop. Before I know it, I’m adding characters, developing ‘what if’ scenarios to the plot and then it's a case of abandon hope all ye who enter.

All suggestions for curing this ailment would be most welcome and will, of course, be rewarded with several virtual beers.

For stimulation this week, John is reading:

The Dirty Secrets Club, Meg Gardiner


Ady Hall said...


Hope you're feeling better and had a few restful days away from the hoi-baloi of Douglas!

Short stories are a big interest for me, too (donchya know). I like the briefness, the impact, the eensy-weensy slice of time it takes to read and fact that if it's rubbish you haven't wasted too much time!

I browse thru these guys blogs every blue moon ( and who both have lots to say and seem to say it in short short time! AG has even set up a shortstory site just for the likes of you!

My absolute fave tho is where stories have to be 25 words or less. Short, sweet and perfectly formed (just like Bev!)

John Quirk said...

Cheers for the links, Ady, I'll have a skeet at those later.

I guess I've always gone the other way, both with reading and writing, opting for big epics you can lose yourself in and really get to know the characters. Short stories always seemed so, well, short.

But I'm looking forward to giving it a crack. Although I think I'll give the 25-worders a miss.

I'll give you a shout soon, got some stuff to talk about...

Kate said...

John, as you know I'm a big fan of the short form. It's a good dicipline for honing you craft. Often though I find a short story needs just as big and idea and just as much depth as a longer piece would have. The trick is getting it all across with an economy of words where every one counts.
Give it a go - who knows where it will lead!

John Quirk said...

Thanks, Kate - hopefully it will follow in your lead, I see you've just sold another story, this time to Arkham Tales - cool!

I'm looking forward to getting started once Manx Giant is finished, only slight problem is somehow managing to juggle shorts with making progress on YA novel and other stuff. It's a bloody tough balancing act.


philip m said...

Hey - how long does it take this litopia site to send a confirmation email? It said it has been sent but is has not arrived. Does it take a few days?

philip m said...

Hey - how long does it take this litopia site to send a confirmation email? It said it has been sent but is has not arrived. Does it take a few days?

John Quirk said...

Hi Philip

When you say confirmation email, what is that for?
If you can let me know, I'll check for you.