Writing Short – Let’s Think About Words

I have discovered over the years that I have two settings when it comes to writing – I can write very short, or very long. (This holds true in the a smaller degree when I write short stories – I can do drabbles, or little shorts of a few thousand words, or wind up with a ‘short story’ that is pushing 45,000 words. Not a short story any more.)

Today I’m talking about the short side of things, obviously. (I don’t have such an easy explanation for the longer side of my writing habits.)

Really, though, I am very fond of short fiction, both reading (bite-sized pieces of story? Yes please!) and writing. I think it can be a very fun look at things.

One reason why I like writing short fiction, and why I think it’s done so much for me as a writer (I’ve written a lot of tiny stories), is that it makes me think about words. Now if you know me – or, heck, if you’ve read much of my rambling on writing in the past – you might be given pause at this point, because no, I never think about words ever, nope nope nope.

But really! I think about words all the time – vocabulary is fun, etymology is fun, words rock seriously, let me not conceal my feelings on this point – but writing short fiction is like packing light for a mission. I have my objective and a limited amount of equipment I can select to achieve it, within the allotted time. So my first draft might be a bit looser (still figuring out what equipment might be necessary for my objective, still mapping out the territory to be covered) but when it comes down to it I have to pare to the essentials.

I’m not just talking about writing for a wordcount limit, of course, although that’s one major motivator for the above mentioned style of paring down. I am more mindful of words in general when there are fewer of them to tell a story, to link my reader to my character and their situation, to make them connect somehow and get them interested and involved.

After all, there’s only a short time I have them, and I want to make the ride interesting, make it worth it, even if it’s a brief one. Making a reader want more? Always great. Making them feel like something was missing from the story? Not what I mean by wanting more and not what I want the impression to be like. It’s not a good feeling to leave a reader with in general.

So when I write short, I think about words more, and more deeply. Does this word or phrase have the punch, the feeling that this scene really requires? Does this one really have to be here or would it be more involving if I cut it and let the next sentence flow in quicker?

Then those thoughts which I train myself into, of course, stick around – I’ve mapped a new path in my head. Or, rather, not a new path, but I’ve emphasised this one by walking it, lingering along it, and now it’s comfortable. It’s a good route and one my feet (or my fingers) take me down automatically.

So when I write longer stories I still think. . .

Does this sentence really have the emotional wrench that it needs to for this scene, or would this alternate phrasing make it hit harder, pull deeper? Does this phrase really need to be here or does it slow down the freefall? Does this sweet moment work better with a soft pause left between the words here, rather than a more detailed description of this moment?

I think about words. And I think that the way I do so after training myself with short stories, trying to get the impact I want in a small space, is very good for my writing as a whole. (Even for my non-fiction writing, though in entirely different ways, of course.)

After all, that kind of thinking about the building blocks of a story tightens the writing, smoothes the way it all slots together, and makes for a better story overall – whatever the length.

Do you write short stories? When you write short do you think differently about the way you write or how you use words? Have you learned anything different about your writing through writing short fiction?


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