Home > My Writing > ’tis the season for writing short stories

’tis the season for writing short stories

images

I’m between novels at the moment. Thirsty Work is completed and on the publishing merry-go-round and my next novel Opprobrium/The City of Rubber Stamps isn’t yet underway, so I thought these past two weeks of holidays would present a fine opportunity for writing two or three or four shorter works. I’m happy to report that by today, day 15 of 16, I’ve managed to produce no fewer than four short stories (all under 3000 words), all of which have now been submitted to various competitions around Australia.

Writing at this length is pretty liberating, I’ve found. The short form allows you to try things that you wouldn’t dream of undertaking at novel length. For example, one of the stories I’ve written, “when the jellyfish rule the oceans”, is my take on future fantasy in the style of Jeff Vandermeer and, long before him, Brian Aldiss (especially his novel Hothouse). “jellyfish” features one young child, one technologically advanced robotic bird and one big dash of weirdness, including, you guessed it, a swarm of jellyfish. I wouldn’t dream of writing a novel containing these parts (I’ll leave that to Vandermeer), but at 2000 words, I’m game to try. I also found that using visual stimulus was actually helpful in dreaming up ideas, something I haven’t really found useful in the past. I set the image below as my desktop wallpaper while writing “jellyfish”. A cliff and those steps feature in the story.

House-on-the-Edge-of-a-Cliff-500x657

My other stories were more quotidian, but hopefully no less fun to read. What started me off on the ‘visual stimulus kick’ was the image below, which is a photograph called Destroy (Sandman). The photo, and seven other visual stimuli, are part of the Albury City Short Story Award 2014Looking at that photo, I dreamed up the seamy character of Rufus (the guy in the hat), who ended up being the main character in not one but two stories, “Enter Sandman” (which I’ve entered into that competition) and “X T Cee”. I was also listening to a lot of Metallica while writing these stories, something I haven’t done in close to twenty years. This is something I started doing fairly recently with Thirsty Work, in which I’d listen to a particular You Am I song, “Secrets”, before each day’s writing session. In writing “Enter Sandman” I listened to the Metallica song of the same name each day, but by the time I started on “X T Cee” I’d moved onto “Master of Puppets”.

patricia piccinini, destroy (sandman)2002, photograph on chromogenic paper

The fourth and final story, which I completed today, is “Killjoy”, a dorky little crime story about a couple plotting to murder their next-door neighbour, with inconclusive results. I worked out recently that prior to these school holidays I’d written no more than seven stories in four years, almost all of which have now been published in some form or another, so it was gratifying to be able to complete these stories over this past two weeks. If a novel is like a baby (and it certainly is, the author its doting parent) then a short story is more like a relative you only see once or twice a year. It’s nice to catch up, have a beer, share a yarn and then get out of there. Short stories require less commitment on the part of the author, and when they are rejected or don’t win prizes it’s far easier to be sanguine about it. Novels, on the other hand…

 

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