Today I am praising my paper shredder. All hail the paper shredder! Without it, you might find me, weeks later, buried under a pile of balled up paper. For several weeks (okay months) I have been diligently editing and rewriting a short story.
I find short stories challenging to write. While novels tend to follow the same basic structure: a beginning, middle and end, the short story takes a certain delight in breaking the rules – and that’s what makes things difficult. There doesn’t need to be a beginning or even an end in the short story. It often begins in the middle. It’s a bit of a tease actually – it offers us a glimpse into a snippet of life. Its drags us into a moment, pulls on the heartstrings, chews us up and spits us out, and then lets us off the bus a bit too early, leaving us to think about the experience we just had.
But isn’t that the thrill ride of a good short story? It can take us away without taking up too much of our time. If they’re good, they ignite our senses and leave a deep impression, making us feel as if we just spent a week reading about this one moment, when it was only a mere 30 minutes of our day. And that’s why they are so challenging to write. It seems like it would be easy to write about a moment, but that moment needs to be rich and satisfying, full of passion, excitement, and urgency in such a short space of time – basically fewer words and more poignancy. That’s really the crux of it, isn’t it? Our challenge is to pack all that punch into fewer words. The short story simply doesn’t have the luxury for exposition, backstory, and character development – it doesn’t always care about a dynamic beginning or a fulfilling end.
The writing process itself is certainly not a moment in time. I’ve only published four short stories in my almost eight years of serious writing. So why do I continue to put myself through this torture? For one thing, it’s good practice. It helps improve my craft. I also find that I like the work. I like challenging my creative skills (also I’m stubborn) to fight my way through the piece. I like to sift through sentences, phrases, and paragraphs, looking to discover that right combination of words that suddenly open the gate to a choir of angels – well, maybe not, but close enough…
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.