The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

The joy of writing short stories again

My published work since 2004 can be summed up by four novels a few nonfiction pieces and a string of online and print reviews. Last year after my contemporary fantasy Sarabande was released,  I decided I needed a change of pace. I not only shifted my focus from novels to short stories, but stepped away from Glacier National Park as a location and explored the story possibilities in the Florida Panhandle where I grew up.

I haven’t been in that part of Florida since the 1980s, but I have a ton of memories of excursions to the beach, exploring caves, floating down rivers, camping in the national forests and weird things that happened in Tallahassee where I lived to give me a lot to write about. A novelist friend of mine has, as it turns out, shifted over to short fiction because they are so well contained that she can tinker with them off and on until they are perfect.

Unfortunately, today’s publishing realities—or the way we are trained as writers—don’t allow us to work on each novel for five, ten or twenty years. This often means that we’re more likely to pay more prolonged attention to a short story than a chapter of similar length in an 80,000- to 150,000-word novel.

I’ve also been enjoying short stories because I found tales to tell that didn’t really need those 80,000 words. Plus, I suppose, I just haven’t found a theme and a plot that I’m passionate enough about to commit to a year of working on a novel-length manuscript.

On Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere around the Internet, a lot of people have been saying, “Where have you been?” They haven’t seen any of the stories yet, so they assume I’m spending my time watching soap operas or working in the yard. To show that—seriously folks—I am working, my publisher and I released my story “Moonlight and Ghosts” as a Kindle e-book. It’s about a former mental health worker who sneaks into the now-abandoned facility where he used to work and discovers a former resident needs his help. My colleague Anne K. Albert interviewed me about the story here.

Ultimately, I may well collect a lot of my 2012 short stories into a book-length collection. But the good news is, I don’t have to. I can enjoy each story from 2000 to 5000 words for what it is ( a tall tale, a bit of humor, a ghost, a blackwater river, or animals living in a swamp) and then move on to the next yarn.

Writing-wise, this year has been a delightful experience, rather like being at a smorgasbord of prospective stories and getting to choose a tasty morsel here and then sampling something over there.

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14 thoughts on “The joy of writing short stories again

  1. Smoky Zeidel on said:

    I disagree that as writers we can spend less time on a novel chapter than on a short story. A novel chapter, even though it is only a small part of the whole, is as important to the whole as your heart is to your human body. To pay anything less than full attention to what you’re writing simply because it will be absorbed into a larger work is careless and sloppy writing.

  2. You are right, of course, though I have to say that it’s easier to “see the whole board” with a 2,000-word story than it is with a 120,000-word novel. The person who spends six months on a short story (off and on, perhaps) would have to spend many years on a novel to afford the same amount of attention on each 2000-w0rd segment.


  3. Smoky Zeidel on said:

    Who takes six months to write a short story??? If you have the story idea, sit down and write it–don’t overthink it! I’ve seen more student stories that held promise initially, but the student writer overworked what they were writing and screwed the story up. Short stories aren’t meant to take six months. They’re meant to take six hours, or maybe six days, but not six months!

    • This prompts me to ask–in regard to the “great masters” we studied in high school and college–esactly what were they doing when they worked for 10-15 years on each novel? 🙂

      • Smoky Zeidel on said:

        They were rewriting it over and over because there was no search and replace function with their parchment and quills.

  4. Possibly so. Yet, I think that I’ve never been 100% satisfied with anything I have written. Six monts or a year later, I can always find words, phrases or scenes I would like to improve. Perhaps taking six months to write a story has time for reflexion built in, thew luxury of letting it sit and then coming back to it later with a fresh perspective.


    • Smoky Zeidel on said:

      I don’t think any artist is ever 100 percent satisfied with what they have written, painted, composed. Mozart wasn’t, Van Gogh wasn’t. It’s part of the artistic temperament, and it is precisely because we can always tweak something that we continue to obsess. An accountant, for example, can’t do that. The numbers add up or they don’t. A surgeon can’t–either the appendectomy is successful or it isn’t. And therein lies the problem–we continue to obsess, to tweak, until we’ve tweaked all the spirit, all the life, out of a story. I’ve seen it happen time and again with students of mine, and clients of mine. Shoot, I’ve done it myself, only to realize too late I’ve killed the life–killed my voice–out of a story. I won’t let myself take that long anymore. It’s depressing for me not to have a finished piece in a timely manner, and I can’t finish if I continue to obsess. 😎

      • That can happen. We all need to learn to tell the difference between polishing our work and obsessing about it. Learning that difference is one of the more difficult parts of becoming a writer.

  5. melindaclayton on said:

    I plead guilty to overthinking and taking much too long to write. I can spend weeks writing and rewriting a chapter (or a short story). Even after I’ve finally finished, when it’s too late, I’ll go back and find things I wish I could redo. I drive myself nuts.

    • Melinda, after reading Smoky’s comments, I’ve entered a 12-step STOP OVERTHINKING program. It involves Xanax along with some optional affirmations.


      • Smoky Zeidel on said:

        It doesn’t surprise me you’re in the overthinking group, Melinda! And Malcolm, we really should come up with a 12-step program. Just because I preach “stop overthinking” doesn’t mean I’m not guilty of doing just that sometimes! And Scotch works as well as Xanax, btw… 😎

      • melindaclayton on said:

        I think I might need that program for all sorts of reasons!

  6. Scotch works well for a lot of things, or, for “just being.”

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