3. Poems and Short Stories
There’s no better way to practice the art of writing than to write a few poems and short stories. Have you ever tried your hand at them? It’s surprising the number of writers that have never done this. Instead they jump straight in with their first novel.
Poems are a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Why? Because they force you to either rhyme or scan or express your feelings. And most poems are quite short, probably less than 200 words or so. Stuck for a subject? Then just pick a sentence from a book and write a poem about it. It doesn’t have to be very long. Or else choose something in your house, or your son or daughter, or your cat or dog. There are a hundred different subjects you can find. Let me try my hand at a limerick:
I once had a big tiger catThere we go, less than five minutes and that included being attacked by my cat, Pipsqueak. She’s a little one year-old tabby by the way. The point is it’s not that difficult to write poems and practice the art of writing. As we’ve said already, the more you write, the better you will get.
Who got incredibly fat.
I cut out her food
She got in a mood
And she swallowed my other pet, rat!
Onto short stories. The beauty of short stories is that you don’t have to sit at the keyboard for days on end to finish them. Ideally, short stories should be somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 words in length. Assuming you write at about 1,000 words an hour, you can see you’ve only got to write for three to ten hours. I write at about 1300 to 1600 words an hour usually, so I ought to be able to write a short story in two to seven and a half hours. That’s only a couple of days work! Think about it, you can have a complete story in two days!
How do you write a short story? First spend a day or so planning the story. Lay out a simple plot, introduce a couple of characters, add some conflict and there you go. Then jot down somewhere between ten and twenty story points. Next re-order them to make sure the pace of the story is correct and the conflicts are in all the right places. Finally, start writing. The objective is simple. For each story point you are going to write somewhere between 300 and 500 words. Don’t worry about getting it exactly right, just write. Don’t self-edit, don’t re-read what you’ve written. Just write each story point and move onto the next. At the end of your exercise you’ll have a short story that will be ready for editing at some point in the future. And I’ll say this again; just leave the story and let it mature on its own in the dark. Article fourteen in this series, Letting the book ‘cook’, discusses why you should do this. For now just be happy that you’ve written a short story.
Another reason for writing short stories is to discover those that could be turned into full-length novels at some point in the future. Sometimes an idea we have for a story doesn’t go anywhere. We write the ten to twenty story points and that’s it. There’s nothing more in it. But sometimes, we write the short story and suddenly realize there’s a whole world waiting to be discovered in this story. It has the makings of a full-length best seller. Welcome to the world of finding your niche!
At the beginning of this article I wrote that some people jump straight into writing their first novel instead of practicing with poems and short stories first. Hopefully you understand the point a little better now. The truth is that most writers have a hundred story ideas, and sometimes one or two they are convinced will turn into novels. But that’s it; they’re just ideas. Like anything in life, you need to prove the idea. You need a prototype. The short story is your prototype. Once you start writing your ten to twenty story points, you’ll soon discover how long the legs on your story are. As an example, when I write my YA fantasy novels I generally need between 200 and 250 story points to complete the novel, and each story point converts to about 550 words. This gives me a novel of about 125,000 words. It’s tough to come up with 200 story points out of the gate and it would be terrible to get half-way through a novel and discover you have nowhere to go.
So, your task is to write a short story over the next few days so that by the time we get to the article on self-editing you have something to work with. Enjoy!