I finished my very first short story the other day, and boy oh boy, it’s bad.
I have a Google Drive full of fragments, most of which cap out at three paragraphs, though some of them range all the way up into the twenty-five thousand word area. I cannot say that any of them are good, but there are some nuggets in there that I am quite proud of. A paragraph here, a turn of phrase there, and handful of premises that I really like and intend to return to eventually.
This one, though, is the first one I ever really finished.
The problem is that I write these things in much the same way that I play Bethesda titles, in that I play through to level 15 or so, stop, put it down for a week, and when I come back I start all over again because I didn’t like this or that character trait, or specced into a dead-end skill tree, or killed a friendly NPC or whatever. When I return to the game after an absence I am no longer in the same headspace I was before, and the decisions I made the first time around no longer make any sense. The same is true of writing.
I am assured by those who know better that this is a problem most people have and that you just have to learn how to get past it. I haven’t yet, and so some of the better fragments in that Drive folder have been re-written five or six times but have never gotten past a page in length. I think I’m pretty good at writing the first three paragraphs of things, that being the part I have practiced most. It’s all the rest of the process which bedevils me. Dialogue, characters, plots, all that, which is a major impediment to ever actually getting published anywhere but one’s own blog.
So, a couple of weeks ago I sat myself down on a Saturday and set some guidelines. They were these:
- Must have a beginning, middle, and end
- Must have dialogue
- Must be no longer than six thousand words
- Must be edited, completely, at least once
I succeeded in meeting all of those requirements, and humble as they were I’m proud that I did it.
The thing lost its zest, though. I don’t really know how that happened, but I am inclined to believe it was somewhere in the editing process. Or, maybe, the initial heady rush has worn off and I am now able to see it for what it was the whole time. I’m done with it for now, though I may come back and fix it later when I have a firmer grasp on how to do that.
In any case, it’s done. It establishes two protagonists, their relationship, their peculiar line of work, and the jaded disinterest with which they pursue it. If I look at the story as a block of exposition (which, in thinking about it, is exactly what it is), that means that the next six thousand words with a beginning, middle, and end can focus more on the fun bits.
So. Time to get back up on the horse.