Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday Moods--Experimental Shorts

Last year I wrote a short story to be included in an anthology called The First Time. I hadn't written one of these for the young adult category before, so I had to give it  a little . . . some . . . one heck of  a lot of thought. And my biggest hurdle was getting started.


I only had a maximum of 5, 000 words to tell a whole story. Yikes! How was I going to do that? I much prefer a comfortable 60 to 80K to develop my characters and let them work through their challenges. But I'd signed on to write the story, so I decided I'd better stop worrying about the limited number of words and get on with it.


I went through some of my favorite short story writers and reread James Thurber, Kingsley Amis and William Faulkner. All very different writers, aren't they? Yet their stories grabbed me when I read them the first time years ago and kept me reading when I returned to them this time. 




So why were these old stories still interesting to read?


The answer popped up the minute I asked that question. The Characters. In Thurber's  "The Catbird Seat"  it was Mr. Martin, the mild-mannered, cunning man with murder on his mind.  I never could shake the character of Jim Dixon in "Lucky Jim" or fail to shudder every time I thought of  Emily Grierson, shuttered inside that dark house in "A Rose for Emily." 


Each of the characters in these stories are memorable. First they have a unique voice. Their word choice is theirs. The way they put these words together in dialog or thought is their way of expressing themselves, and the cadence of their language belongs to each of them and can't be confused with any other characters in the story. 


Then they're plunged into a situation--AKA a tight spot--and the reader must find out what they will do to get out of it. Will Mr. Martin kill Ulgine Barrows? Will Jim Dixon overcome his first and very bad impression he made at his school? Will Emily keep Homer . . . forever?  As we read how each of these characters act and react, we have a plot to keep us engaged in the action, action that's all about the character.


With all of this information whirring in my writer's brain I set out to write Premeditated Cat. So far it has been reviewed well, so while I can't hold myself up to Thurber, Amis or Faulkner, I can thank them for their wonderfully written stories and their inspiration. And since I had such a great time writing the first short story I submitted a second one. It will be published this year in Two and Twenty Dark Tales, and I'm really excited. 

30 comments:

  1. Congratulations!
    I would certainly feel the pressure of writing a story so short. Not that my books are very long...

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  2. I am loving the Two and Twenty cover! I hadn't seen it yet. So happy for all of you.

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  3. I was crazy about Premeditated Cat (what a twist at the end!!!) and can't wait for Two and Twenty Dark Tales to come out!

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  4. Congratulations on the upcoming publication of your second short story! Very exciting =)

    It's funny to hear how comfortable you are writing 60 - 80k. Those numbers terrify me. I'm much more experienced writing short stories - usually with a maximum of 1,000 words. One of the most challenging things for me with writing novels is not wrapping things up in the first chapter or two. LOL.

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  5. Excellent! Short story writing is a whole other art. Isn't it? A friend of mine is very good at it. My short stories tend to go long, usually 7,000 words or more.

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  6. You should be excited! Congrats to you on this milestone.

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  7. Well done, Lee and super congrats :)

    PS... Have you ever tried one of Literary Agent, Janet Reid's contests?

    She's running one today - you have to write a story in 100 words using certain key words... they're fun to shake off some cobwebs :)

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  8. Writing a short story makes my lungs constrict. I admire your success with it. Congrats.

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  9. wow---i have never written anything as long---wonderful congrats!

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  10. Sounds like a lot of fun! Difficult, yes, but fun. :)

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  11. Good for you! I've never really tried my hand at shorts either. Maybe one of these days... I look forward to reading your story! :)

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  12. Yay!!! Congrats! I love short stories. I love writing for anthologies as well. I wrote those long before I ever knew I could write a novel. :D

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  13. Congratulations. I love short stories!

    Nas

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  14. It's so funny how that goes! Stephanie and I entered a short story contest that had to be under 1500 words- and it was not easy. We ended up with a fun Halloween story entitled, Ferry Blackwell Strikes Again. We were able to craft it to exactly 1500 words after basically chopping away all of our hard, descriptive, stage setting scenes. The amazing part is it came out pretty good and stayed right on point. It's actually a wonderful way for writers to learn how to control their words and sentence structure. I look at it as a challenge now, like fitting pieces into a puzzle. I would love, love, love to check out your short stories! ~ Jess
    http://thesecretdmsfilesoffairdaymorrow.blogspot.com/

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  15. Congratulations on both your stories. I think it's very hard to write a short story.

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  17. I'm excited for you! Yes, there are some good old short stories out there. There's nothing like a well-crafted, powerful short story.

    And what gorgeous covers!

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  18. Congrats on the short story. I think we can learn so much from short stories because they do what novels do, only with less words which in my opinion is harder.

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  19. That's exciting news. I love the cover of that second anthology!

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  20. You certainly went to the masters for inspiration. Congratulations!

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  21. Congratulations!!! Short stories are challenging, but revisiting the classics has certainly paid off for you. That's wonderful and exciting.

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  22. Congrats!!! How exciting that must be:) Excited to have you featured on my blog as well (next week!)

    Nutschell
    www.thewritingnut.com

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  23. Congratulations. Looking at some of the best writers to help you write the best is smart.

    And I couldn't ignore the mention of your work on Amazon. "My two favorites were Premeditated Cat by C. Lee McKenzie...."

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  24. I love your website. I played with the header and read your pages. Very nice. I've been through Gilroy. I get it. :)

    Wow, a story in 5000 words is tough. I think you went to the right folks for help. I love the cover of the "Two and Twenty". I like the premise for the anthology too!

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  25. I'm not sure I could write a short story. I'm not a fan of reading them. I love to get lost in novel length stories.

    Good luck!!! :D

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  26. Congratulations.

    I don't consider myself a short story writer--I always itch to write a novel--but after entering some flash fiction blogfests in the past year, I've become interested in writing shorter pieces.

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  27. Yay well done you!! I prefer writing flash fiction - the shorter the story the better for me! I know I'll struggle to write a 5000 word short story! Love how you found your inspiration too! take care
    x

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  28. Congratulations and well done!

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  29. WTG, Lee! What wonderful news! I agree those are awesome covers. I'm not surprised that you were able to write some great short stories because whatever you write is always superb. Even your comments. I always enjoy your witty, funny comments. Hope you have a nice Memorial Day.

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