The long and the short of it

Here’s the thing – I am primarily a long-form writer. I’m a natural novelist – my writing rhythms tend that way, I tend to write long and lush and paint a wide horizon using a broad brush (which leaves me room, LOTS of room, to go back in and fill in the fine detail – worldbuilding has been a joy of mine ever since I started out on this road…) I knew this from way back when – I was writing novel-length stuff by the time I was ten years old  (I only started writing remotely GOOD novel-length stuff when I was thirteen or fourteen, though…)

And yet… and yet….

In the space of the last two years, I’ve written quite a number of short stories. Now, that isn’t my usual format, and nor do I think that I am going to forsake the novel for the short stuff – but it’s just interesting, because this isn’t the way my mind has worked before now. And I”m wondering what it was that triggered the change.

Writing is learning, a lifelong quest for knowledge and inspiration and wisdom. I hardly thought that I’d conquered it all when I churned out a couple of novels, and now knew everything that there was to know. But even so, the directions in which my new lessons are taking me has been an interesting one. I’ve had to rearrange the furniture in my mental writing room in order to do this – I’ve kept the nice comfy armchair by the window, but the lounging couch has been taken to the storage loft – I’m learning to look deeper and think faster and write leaner, sitting up in that armchair and staring out of the window. Whereas before I would have spent the time lounging on the couch, noticing the storm-blue of the clouds on the horizon, glowing oddly in a stray shaft of pre-storm sunshine picking out the greenery rising against those clouds and pinning them there with a strange other-worldly amber-orange light; I might have noticed the moss growing on the roof below my window, and wondered what if anything could be done about that and whether the room below would have leaks if the next big storm broke right overhead; I might have noticed the birds in the sky, and judging from the direction in which the Vs were flying I might have thought about the seasons, whether the birds were coming or going, whether we were headed for summer or for winter. I might have let myself drift  – how much longer the days were than only a handful of weeks ago! How the air smelled like spring, and of the lilacs which were still a promise of blossom to come! How it all turns again, and how it seems as though it was just yesterday that the light in the mornings was still the stiff prismatic one of winter and not the softer, more mellow summery glow, and how quickly it will all pass and the winter light would come stalking back across the river where ice would start to catch in deep shaded crannies.

I might have noticed the guy walking towards the house, on the dusty county road. Eventually. When the story got around to him.

Instead, I notice him now as he moves, a blur of motion in the static landscape – an action in a description mode. And he’s a story, right off. All the beautiful world that surrounds him becomes secondary to the question of where he is hurrying with such urgent purpose, and why.

The short story is teaching me to take another look at my worlds, see them differently. I don’t know what kind of a writer I will be when I emerge from the other side of this particular formative chrysalis, whether my novels will become sharpened and clarified by the honed vision of the short story or whether I’ll have hamstrung myself into incoherence – in the world of writing, anything can happen, and usually does. But I’m looking forward to the journey, to the learning. I always have. It’s part of the job.

I’ve an idea for another short story which swam into my head last night on the way home from a night out. I have written down a few key phrases that form the dismembered skeleton of the tale. It is my mission, if I choose to accept it, to go pore over those bones and figure out how they fit together – and if I do it right the story will draw a breath of life and wake and walk. It’s exhilarating. It’s hard work.

It’s writing.

I’m off to do some, now.

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There are 3 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. S0BeUrself

    I enjoy writing with a short story frame of mind, insofar as chapters should contain an emotional journey on top of the external plot devices on which they ride. Its effectiveness lies in what is not said as much as in what is. Good luck!

  2. 2. Lydia Sharp

    I feel like I just stepped into the Twilight Zone. My guest post on Janice Hardy’s blog (the day before this!) had this very same title and was basically about this very same topic. *shivers* See it for yourself here:
    http://storyflip.blogspot.com/2010/05/how-they-do-it-guest-blogger-lydia.html
    I think I can rightly say you and I are on the same wave length. ;)

  3. 3. Alma Alexander

    SoBeYourself – I like the idea of a “short story frame of mind”…

    Lydia – indeed – I just popped over to your link. Eerie [grin]

Author Information

Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander is a novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose books include High Fantasy ("Hidden Quen""Changer of Days"), historical fantasy ("Secrets of Jin Shei", "Embers of Heaven"), contemporary fantasy ("Midnight at Spanish gardens") and YA (the Worldweavers series, the Were Chronicles). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two cats. Visit site.

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