Fiction Writers—Go Make Some Short Things!

24 February 2021 on Blog, Storystorm  

When I find the idea of writing long pieces really daunting—and I don’t mean novels, or even novellas; I mean short stories, totaling fifteen pages or so—I like to transition to writing shorter things. Creating a character, a setting, an arc, a plot, and an epiphany, on a short story’s scale, sometimes just feels incompatible with everything that’s already going on in my mind. There’s no room for a coherent story to wedge itself in, just lots of little shattered ones.

One strategy I use to generate small things is imitation. I’ll read another writer’s work, spend some time thinking about it, and isolate a technique the author used, or an aspect of their style, or even something about the content that resonates with me. Then I’ll try to make it work on my own, in a little short piece. A story that doesn’t use punctuation but never gets confusing, or that uses a second person narrator exceptionally well, gives a fun and productive challenge. A character or experience can trigger a memory in me, and that memory might be ready to be fictionalized, or might inspire something else. Trying to imitate a work that uses lots of sentence fragments, or super long sentences, or lots of ideas crammed into individual sentences, can set a writer off on new avenues of style exploration and development. Listen to the writer’s cadence, and mimic in a little flash piece, or a potential scene for something longer. This is one of my favorite ways to generate when I’m feeling stagnant.

Free-writing is also fantastic. I’ll sit down at my laptop and start typing whatever comes to mind into a new document. I can get words down faster typing than writing by hand, and speed is an interesting variable to play with in a free-writing practice. Try the computer! Try a pencil! Try crayons. Go fast, go slow. White out the text. Make the text big. Set on music or write to a subject, theme or prompt—or choose a character, setting, or struggle, some aspect of a longer project you’re working on, and write from that. Take some time to doodle next to whatever you’re writing, or on a separate sheet of paper if you’re using a computer, and respond to the doodle, speak to it or from it. Get into the doodle’s head! Get as weird as you want! Get fun. Do whatever and then change it up. When I finish I like to save my free-writes and revisit them later on, pulling from the text I generated to shape and incorporate parts into a new project, either short or long, or maybe I'll find something inside the free-write that works on its own. It’s a party! (Except it’s 100% covid-safe! Everyone’s invited!)

I will also simply choose a short form and write into it, which can lead to surprising and insightful places, and there are so many ways to do it. Sometimes I sit and tell myself I will just practice the form. (Of course, in writing, you can’t just practice anything. Try writing flash without working on character or setting, or try writing a prose poem without also working on imagery and juxtapositions. And more specific techniques will creep in, too, if you’ve been practicing them.) Other times I’ll have an idea or image I want to explore or flesh out when I start the piece. Sometimes I’ll use a fragment pulled from a free-write as a prompt instead of incorporating it into the text as is. Sometimes I just follow the characters, images, and language, and see where we all end up.

Go write some flash fiction, prose poems, free-writes, scenes, or even just sentence fragments! For me, at least, it can be a great way to tap into thoughts I didn't realize were in me.

Danley Romero is the fiction editor of Barnstorm and a second-year MFA student at the University of New Hampshire. You can find him on Instagram @danley456.

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