Short Stories are Writing Playgrounds

I could spend hours, days, weeks talking your ear off about the wonderfulness of the retreat I went on this past March, the inaugural Aspiring Writers Workshop hosted by Madcap Retreats, but for right now, I’m going to focus on one piece of the wonderfulness: the creation of Band of Dreamers.

Inspired by The Merry Sisters of Fate, my writing partner Jenna and I decided to write a weekly short story based on a long list of prompts we created. I had never written a short story before, and the idea of writing a fully-realized story in such a small amount of words was daunting. Jenna and I originally set the word limit at 1,000, but our first attempts blew that limit out of the water. We decided to give ourselves more flexibility, and I believe my first story came in right around 2,500 words.

From that first story, though… I’ve been hooked. After over two years spent working on the same novel, taking little breaks each week to divert my mind and explore fresh new prompts was vital. Sometimes I’d be resentful of the need to shift focus away from the book, but in the end, I’d always appreciate it. And in return, writing short stories has had a monumental impact on my writing.

Because short stories are really and truly a writing playground for me. I get to explore themes and metaphors, character traits and setting descriptions, moods and emotions, and play with them freely. In each of my short stories, you’ll find some turn of phrase or metaphor that is purely me playing. One of the examples that comes to mind is from a story I wrote called Soul Song, about a girl who can heal others but loses a piece of her soul each time.

She doesn’t look away from his eyes, but she sees in her periphery that the rest of him is also an ocean, that his face is an ocean and his body is an ocean, all of it swaying, lapping wonder. She thinks to herself that she wouldn’t mind swimming in this particular ocean.

I remember writing that and thinking to myself for a moment, “Well, that is ridiculous. A face and a body can’t be an ocean.” But something about the imagery or feeling of it captured me. I couldn’t delete the words, and I didn’t feel any obligation to do so. Because it’s my playground. I write the stories for others to read and hopefully enjoy, of course, but I also write them for myself, for my own love of words.

If you read the first draft of ATWSOS, and then you read the second draft, I think one of the things you will notice is the evolution of my writing. You will also notice that my heroine cried A LOT in the first draft, but, uh, mostly the evolution of writing thing. I think that you can see my comfort level change, my word-play change, my willingness to take risks with words change. You can see anger as a lit match clenched between two fingers, a storm that turns out to be a hurricane brewing behind the eyes of a damaged man, the stillness of the forest fall in another man’s green eyes.

Words are now my swingset, my slide, my seesaw. And that is all thanks to the short story project.

“A short story is the ultimate close-up magic trick — a couple of thousand words to take you around the universe or break your heart.” – Neil Gaiman

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