Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Short Stories

By Mark W. Danielson

Crafting novels is easy compared to short stories. In novels, words flow ceaselessly – until your editor receives your manuscript. Then, if you haven’t learned the value of words, your document may be returned with the following note: “Revise and resubmit.” But fear not; criticism and re-writes are part of the writing process.

Early on, one of my editors introduced me to Haiku to teach me the value of words. Haiku is a Japanese method of creating a story in three phrases using 5-7-5 syllables. Here’s one example:
Bristol evening -- The old lamp light glows softly -- Beneath swagging clouds. But like poetry, you may see Haiku in different formats. For example, three lines may replace the 5-7-5 syllable limitation. Either way, the intent of Haiku is to create a story with minimal words.

So-called “Fortune Cookies” are similar to Haiku because their faux wisdom creates a vision in a single line. Of course, some people like to make their fortunes more fun by adding the phrase, “between the sheets”. For example, For success today, look first to yourself [between the sheets]” or To let another into your heart, first let yourself in [between the sheets]. But the real joke about Chinese fortune cookies is their origin. You see, fortune cookies actually evolved from a crisp cracker introduced by Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s. And when 100,000 Japanese-Americans were interned in World War II, the Chinese-American bakers filled the void with their own version, thus making the fortune cookie a traditional courtesy dessert in American Chinese restaurants.

Now, using the concepts of Haiku and Chinese fortunes, short story authors interested in improving their craft should consider writing Letters to the Editor. To get an editor’s attention, your correspondence must be concise, worthy, and to the point. Published letters will confirm you’re on the right track. If it wasn’t published, then take it as a sign that improvement is needed. Did I mention that rejection is also part of writing?

“But I’m a novelist,” you say, “And I have no interest in writing short stories.” That’s fine, but if you want to get published, you must also become an expert at writing short stories. Don't your synopsis, jacket descriptions, and queries fall into this category? Don’t they follow the same principles I discussed earlier? So the lesson here is to practice being as concise as you are creative. Know the value of your words. Never overuse adjectives. Read everything out loud to ensure it is interesting and says what you intended. If everything’s in order, then go forth and seek publication.

As a supplimental note, tomorrow is Veterans Day and I wish to salute all veterans on this day and every day. Thank you for your service. You will never be forgotten.


Jean Henry Mead said...

Great article, Mark, and good advice. Haiku and other forms of poetry are excellent ways to teach oneself brevity and conciseness, as is journalism.

I second your salute to Veterans, God bless them.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks, Jean. Of course, it's always easier to write about short stories than to write the stories themselves.

I'm sure out veterans have plenty of stories to share -- if only they would write them down.

Helen Ginger said...

"Don't your synopsis, jacket descriptions, and queries fall into this category?" - Excellent point, Mark. And writers have to be able to write those, as well as the longer book.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Helen, it's much easier to write the novel than those critical elements that go into getting it published. But then, you already knew that:)