I have always been a big fan of speculative and fantasy fiction, I think I can safely say there is nothing I would rather read. There is certainly nothing I would rather write.
Unlike most writers I know (which isn’t many), I had never written a serious short story, I launched straight into a fantasy novel, albeit one I co-wrote with a more experienced writer. Ambitious, you might think, but the thought of writing a novel actually seemed less daunting than a short story. Maybe, because of the very fact that it sounds ambitious, there is less pressure for it to be any good or to meet anyone’s expectations.
A short story needs to be snappy, you can’t waste too many words on build-up, unnecessary strands or tangents to the plot. Every scene has to be incisive, fast-paced and at the same time have enough information to advance the plot and keep the reader informed as to what is going on. Compared to this, writing a novel seemed leisurely. Time either moves more slowly in a novel or the story covers a longer period. Either way, you have more time to explain things, build characters, create atmosphere or describe scenery.
I found it a real challenge to get from one scene to the next without it seeming disjointed and laboured. I’ve discovered that it is a serious skill to write short stories, you have to be slick and eloquent, otherwise it is hard to read and trips up on itself.
For me it was doubly hard because it was my first piece of serious solo writing, which meant that I had to find inspiration somewhere other than excitedly bouncing ideas off my co-writer over a beer. I had to come up with my own plot, my own background and my own characters. For a while I didn’t know where to start.
Someone gave me some good advice on the Goodreads forum: Write every day, even if you don’t like it or if it has nothing to do with the story you are writing, and eventually you will find the words you’re looking for. I did what they said and it really helped. It still took me a while but, with perseverance, I eventually got into my flow and finished the story.
This is just my experience of my first attempt at a short fantasy story, but I have a new found respect for short story writers. As you can tell from this blog, I’m not an expert on writing short stories (or novels for that matter) so feel free to disagree, you probably know more than me so I’d be interested to hear your opinion.
The fantasy novel I mentioned, co-written with David Pilling, is called The Best Weapon and is now available from Musa publishing. The short story is called The Peace of Elias will soon be available on Amazon.