There was a time when I considered myself primarily a short story writer. I mean, other than the occasional review, that was mostly what I did and what I was, above all else and proud of it. This despite the fact that I had written over ten novels at the time, which of course I did not consider a contradiction. A story was a story, and some were longer than others. That was all there was to it, so far as I was concerned. However, I did have clear ideas about what was and was not a short story, none of which would fit into any academic definition. I knew one when I read one, contrariwise I knew when one wasn’t and tended to get a little miffed when I read a story in a magazine or collection, said story not living up to my own personal definition. “That’s not a short story, it’s an excerpt from a novel!” was my rallying cry.
So how did I know this? I didn’t, really. It was just something that seemed obvious to me. Someone clipped out a section of a novel, maybe smoothed the edges over a bit, emphasized the self-contained elements and downplayed those which implied matters outside itself in a cynical ploy to pick up a quick check and possibly some free advertising for the eventual book. Sometimes I’d give them a break because I knew the writer was primarily a novelist and probably couldn’t write a proper short story with a gun to their head. Ahem. As I said, it used to annoy me a little. I mean, if you’re in a short story market, write an actual short story, not this patchwork pretender!
Yeah, about that…
In the last two months I’ve completed two stories after a bit of a drought. That is, I thought I had. The first…well, it’s something else. A complete scenario, I will say, and introduction to a couple of interesting characters. But it’s not a short story. It doesn’t quite stand on its own because (as I finally realized) it’s the opening to a novel, one I hope to write soon. The other—and this is the ironic part—is probably also part of a novel. However, it does stand on its own and I have no hesitation about sending it out until it—I hope—finds a home. Yet it’s also the opening to a potential novel because, rather than closing down at the end, it opens up. The reader should be satisfied that what they’ve read is a complete story. However, there is an implied “What next?” which can only be answered by expanding/continuing it. It differs from the first in that the resolution of the first does not fit that criterion. The continuation there has to be explicit and immediate or the piece doesn’t work. The second, due to its structure and immediate resolution of its conflict, does not have that limitation. So I’m calling it a short story…and, eventually, an excerpt from a novel.
And eating some very overdone and overdue crow. So there.