Today’s Writing Challenge of the Week, as posted on Innovative Editing’s Facebook page, is pretty much a dare: a dare for you to write your very own short story.
Some creative writers might not consider that much of a contest, admittedly. For some of you, that’s what you do. You write short stories.
For others, you’re multitalented, capable of writing novels and novellas and short stories galore… maybe even poetry too!
But for those us lesser mortals who are really only good at writing much longer narratives, this is quite the feat. When your mind is geared toward designing plots that unfold over whole entire chapters, figuring out how to tell a whole entire story in just a couple pages is daunting, to say the least.
Because my creative capabilities are just about as novel-oriented as they could possibly be, I’ve ever only ever attempted two short stories in my life. And one of them turned out to be a short novella. So obviously that was a failed attempt.
The second try though, I have to say, was pretty decent for what it was.
A sci-fi piece, it followed the inadvisable adventures of a young man who was addicted to a hardcore virtual reality game that much more resembled Star Trek: The Next Generation’s holodeck then anything we have today. Because his obsession was draining all his money, he started knocking off convenience stores to get the necessary funds, even going so far as to assault a cashier who didn’t move fast enough for his liking.
He didn’t care though. There was nothing he wanted more in life than to battle past the great dragon Eerkgh on Level 93. If he could just accomplish that, he would be united with the mesmerizingly beautiful Princess Dayanah and could stay with her forever.
(Honesty compels me to admit that I just made up the name of the dragon and princess referenced above, plus the exact level. I could go upstairs to my folder of old stories and check what they really were, but it’s 11:22 p.m., and I’m too lazy to move at the moment.)
The very next morning, he’s right back at the entertainment center, strapped back into his gear and seeing nothing but Level 93. Eerkgh, the size of a craggy hill, is in full force, his breath scorching the protagonist’s skin, his tail sending enormous rocks careening everywhere, his nails slashing through armor and burning into muscle.
Yet eventually, he falls, leaving the protagonist bloodied and broken, yet ultimately victorious.
Staggering past the fallen form of his greatest enemy, the gamer focuses his bleary eyes on the cave just a hundred yards off, already knowing what it holds. The Princess Dayanah.
He knows that one kiss from her, and he won’t care about the pain.
Sure enough, she’s breathtaking: everything he wanted her to be – everything he needed her to be. Her eyes. Her hair. Her form.
Sobbing, he reaches out for her, and she reaches right back with the most exquisite of smiles, welcoming him into her embrace and lowering her lips onto his.
His eyes jerk open at the light, loving touch, which is full of more power than he ever could have imagined. Then he falls dead at her feet.
“Another champion, my dear?” A male voice asks off to the side.
She smiles, her lips as red as her latest victim’s face is white. “Another champion. Don’t you think he seemed nice?”
There were more details to my one and only short story, but that’s the gist. He died. As did my motivation to ever write another narrative shorter than 90,000 words.
But here’s why you might want to pick up the habit that I refuse to try again. There are actually two very good reasons:
Short stories are much more succinct than novels or even novellas. Yet they still include the same elements of character, plot, setting and (probably) dialogue. As a result, they involve a completely different skill set.
Basically, they have to make every sentence count. Their margins don’t allow for throwaway lines. So the experience of having to choose your words with so much greater care can significantly sharpen your writing abilities.
Learning to tell a story in a smaller space is a very helpful skill to fall back on when you’re writing to a literary agent or publishing company, begging them to sign you on. Somehow, someway, they’re always going to want some obnoxiously short summation of your novel. And if you can’t give them that – in an interesting package – you can kiss a publishing contract goodbye.
So there you have it, creative writers. It’s time to ask yourself: What’s your short story going to be?