November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) and it’s not an easy thing to do. Fifty thousand words in thirty days is quite a lot, and unless you prepare by clearing your social calendar and locking yourself away, it’s a difficult target to meet. Even with preparation it’s not easy.
But I’m starting to think that agreeing to do thirty short stories in thirty days is going to be harder. Restricting the size of the story means you’re also restricting what can actually happen. There’s no chance for wild flights of fancy, you can’t go off on tangents and work your way back to try and explain a situation you’ve put your characters into. You have to be far more concise. You have to watch not just the word count, but the action count. You can have too much going on at once. And that’s quite difficult when you’ve got used to rambling on and expanding side remarks into their own chapters and threads.
It’s often said that a story consists of a start, a middle and an end. Thing is though, a book will usually have several stories within it, and each of those threads have starts, middles and end, and often they overlap or share. If the tale you’re currently writing doesn’t seem to want to finish yet, don’t panic, just push on with another thread and they might end up together. But with a short story, you don’t usually have separate threads. You have the one start, the one middle, and the one end. Expand out from that and you run the risk of turning your short story into a novella or even a novel.
So writing short stories is an exercise in control. Writing a book is like wielding a sabre to a short story’s scalpel. You need to rein in the winged horse of your imagination, and stop it flying too far.