The Difficulty in Short Fiction

So, I’m about done with Little Miss No Name; another paragraph or two and some minor clean up and it’s set. When all is said and done, I think I’ll have managed to keep the word count down to under 4,000. I believe that lets it sit safely in the realm of a “short story,” though one never knows. The markers for these things seem to be in shift, and different sources cite different numbers. But while picking away at this – and it has been “picking,” as taking three months to write 4,000 words on an “active” project is slow going indeed, at least for me – I’ve come across a few issues.

First off is obviously length. How long is too long? How many of my “darlings” – as Stephen King once called them – am I willing to kill to fit into the constraints of a particular literary weight class? How many should I kill? I suffer from diarrhea of the word processor, and probably dump far too much exposition and unnecessary information, but at the same time, you need at least a little of that for context. Curbing my natural urges and parenthetical impulses proves difficult at the best of times, but when I’m not sure if I’m doing it because I should, or because I’m trying to prove I can, it becomes twice as mind-boggling to me.

Second is subject matter. There’s abuse, child murder, revenge and a (justifiably) evil little girl in this story. I found myself stripping paragraphs because it bothered me to write them. Should they have stayed? Did they need to go? I don’t know, because the combination of disturbing myself with the words on the page and worry over the potential backlash sent them to the recycling bin.

So there’s your nugget for the day; how badly should we self edit, in particular to hit “target” word counts or avoid offending our audiences(or ourselves)? What constitutes a “short” story? And is it wrong to be happy that the “evil” dolly wins? Hmm.

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3 responses to “The Difficulty in Short Fiction

  1. I love stories in which the evil wins just because they are more rare and also seem more realistic to me. In life, as a general rule, evil has a tendancy to prevail much more often than good.

    • I’m often accused of being morbid or dreary, because even the stories I write where the “heroes” win tend to be pyrrhic victories at best… but I just calls ’em as I sees ’em. At least as far as LMNN is concerned, I don’t know that I’d say “evil” wins… but there’s certainly precious little “happiness” or “ever after” involved.

      I should probably make that a writing exercise for myself. “Write a genuine happy ending. Force it if you have to.” Just to prove that I can. Hmm.

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