Part of the How They Do It Series
Please help me welcome Stefan Bachmann to the site today to share why you should write that short story idea that's bouncing around in your head.
Stefan was born in Colorado, and now lives in an old house outside of Zürich. His debut, The Peculiar was a New York Times Editor's Choice as well as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2012, and was translated into eight languages. Its companion The Whatnot was released in September, 2013.
His newest book The Cabinet of Curiosities, a collection of scary stories he wrote together with authors Emma Trevayne, Claire Legrand and Katherine Catmull, will be released on May 27th, 2014, from Greenwillow/HarperCollins.
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Take it away Stefan...
Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times. I was like, “I love clockwork birds!” and she was like, “ME TOO!” and thus we became each other’s beta readers.
Fast forward a few months and Emma asked me, Katherine Catmull (Summer and Bird) and Claire Legrand (The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls) if we wanted to join a project she had thought up: we would each write one creepy/sinister/fantastical short story per month, one of us posting every week, just as a fun side-thing in order to stay sane while we edited our solo books. The project was called The Cabinet of Curiosities, and Emma had devised a backstory where we were curators of a magical collection of stories, and we had personas, and little fake bios. We didn't really know what would come of it. We definitely didn't expect anything. And then out of the blue my editor at Greenwillow/HarperCollins said she wanted to publish our stories in an anthology and. . . it was happy day in our curiosity cabinet, let me tell you.
In this post (thanks, Janice for having me here!) I wanted to put down a few reasons to write short fiction, because I think it's sometimes overlooked, and especially for writers it can be a valuable thing to try out, even if it doesn't end up being your preferred method of storytelling.
1. It teaches conciseness
For me, just sitting down with the intention to write a short story makes me write differently. I'm much more aware of every sentence, how it fits together with other sentences to build a mood, and how little space I have to establish character or plot. I know I have to keep it short, and everything that can go, must.
I'm fairly convinced that conciseness is the greatest skill you can learn in writing. It keeps the prose clear, and it keeps the plot moving, and it doesn't have to mean that everything becomes spare or bare-bones. All it means is that the words are used to reach a goal, and none are wasted. I'm in awe of writers who can say a lot with only a few words. I'm in awe of writers who can really get to the heart of what they're trying to say, and can express profound or complex ideas in a single sentence. And I think writing short stories can make you to re-evaluate how you use words and make you quite brutal about killing your story-darlings, which is almost always a good thing.
2. You can use up random ideas that don't fit into books
Sometimes I think of a line or a character that doesn't fit into what I'm currently working on at all, and yet I'm still excited about it and want to use it somehow. In The Cabinet of Curiosities, we can use up our weirdest, off-the-wall stuff. So far it's been trees that ingest unwary children, doll-houses with spider legs, sentient nightmares, murderous cakes. . . .
So, if your book just doesn't have space for a rat with a brass diving helmet and eyes that weep green algae, write a short story.
3. You get the satisfaction of finishing something
You can write a short story in an hour if you're into it. You can polish it up in a couple hours more. For me, writing a book is long and complicated and sometimes scary and frustrating, because every one of those 70,000+ words need to fit together perfectly to be something readable, and the idea of that can be incredibly daunting. But when writing a short story, I feel I have much more control over every aspect of it. It feels manageable and when it's done and it turned out the way I wanted it to, I'm just as happy as when I write a whole book.
4. There is a market for short stories
Business-y, but hey.
Middle grade anthologies like Cabinet are fairly few and far between at the moment, but there's been a massive surge in YA anthologies in the last two years, and there's always been a healthy market for short fiction in the adult science fiction and fantasy world. So even if you just write short stories for fun, you can definitely use it for your writing career. If it's picked up by an e-zine, you get to put your best foot forward and show a sampling of what you do to a wide audience. As a reader, I love short stories, too. I get to experience an author's work without committing to reading a whole book. It's almost like the literary equivalent of a movie trailer, and I've found some of my favorite authors through short fiction.
We're all super excited for the release of these 36 creepy tales from Greenwillow / HarperCollins, with illustrations and decorations throughout by the amazing Alexander Jansson, and with tons of snippets and letters and extra content.
You can follow the Curators on social media here:
Katherine Catmull: Blog and Twitter
Claire Legrand: Blog and Twitter
Stefan Bachmann: Blog and Twitter
Emma Trevayne: Blog and Twitter
You can follow the Cabinet’s twitter feed here.(Where we are announce PODCASTS. AND NEW STORIES. AND GIVEAWAYS! All the good things.
About The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister
The book features an introduction and commentary by the authors and black-and-white illustrations throughout.