I recently signed up for a weeklong anthology workshop next year. I’m really excited about this, and a little nervous. The format involves listening to a group of editors discuss the stories of the writers in the workshop, and the stories must be written before the workshop starts. Starting sometime in January I’ll need to write a short story each week for six weeks, and I won’t know the theme ahead of time. Since most of the short stories I start turn into novels, I decided I should start practicing now.
As you may have guessed, the first practice story wants to be a novel.
But I’m not going to let it win! I will force it to be a short story no matter what it takes! Besides, this particular story is unusual for me – I really like the idea of it as a short story, but when I think about turning it into a novel I have zero interest. Usually I am excited to have a short story turn into a novel, in spite of the fact that I have plenty of things to work on already.
One of the things this has made me ponder is the fact that it takes an awful lot of work to come up with a new setting, correct vocabulary, etc. For example, when I write a story set in the American West in the 1800s, I try to use terms and language that fit that time. (One great source for this type of thing is reading journals written by people who lived during that type.) Because I’ve written a few stories in this time and place, when I start a new one in the same general area it’s easier to get the vocabulary and setting details correct. I still have to put work into this, of course, but it’s easier than if I was working with a setting I’d never used before. For example, suppose I set a story in 15th century Florence. I’d have to spend a lot of time researching the city, clothing, food, society, etc.
I have a few similar settings that I like a lot, and which I’ve used multiple times. I’m starting to keep general notes about period details, terminology, etc. My hope is that this will help me get going faster when I have a story set in a time and place similar to one I’ve used before. This is brand new for me, so while I’m pretty sure it will be helpful, I’m curious to see how it shakes out.
For the moment, though, I’m continuing my battle with my current story. I will be victorious! It will be a short story, and I will win!
Or perhaps we’ll call a truce and it will be a novella…