Robin Connelly graduated from Franklin College in 2010 with a Journalism major and an English minor. She has published two short stories, along with several articles through various media. She currently lives in Boise, Idaho and is hoping to have her first novel published soon.
At twelve I wrote my first novel-length novel, “Who is Rajah?” and was ecstatic at being told it read like an X-Men meets Pippi Longstocking. I must admit I became a bit of a novel-snob after that. My goal was to work on novels and I had no interest in writing short stories. Why would I want to write a story anyone could write? The true challenge, the true writer, focused on novels and nothing else.
Ironically, when I did try writing short stories for classes or other projects, I struggled with the task. They were not as easy to write as I remembered. Suddenly they were hard, awkward and…scary in the worst way. Unlike my novels, most were never finished, or were completely made up of exposition, so I often turned in chapters of my WIP for critique and grades.
In college, I took a creative writing class where I had a revelation about my writing and developing short stories, which were born as I worked on a short story titled “It’s For the Best.”
It clicked then that one of the problems I have when it comes to writing short stories is that I come up with concepts that require more than one plot to support it. Multiple plot points require an extended cast of characters and several scenes. Although this is great for novels, trying to write an effective short story with multiple plot points is like trying to shove an elephant into the trunk of a car. It rarely works.
“It’s For the Best” has one consistent plot and setting. The protagonist is buried alive in a coffin, and although she occasionally thinks about her family and fiancé, the plot is ultimately about her being murdered without her knowing it. By limiting scenes and plot lines to one or two, “It’s for the Best” became a great source of pride for me and something my family still talks about.
Another thing I’ve learned is that short stories are a reflection of your novels; but your problems as a writer are often magnified to an uncomfortable extreme. One of my greatest weaknesses is putting too much information and detail into my novels, but the long expositions or unnecessary details are often more hidden to my editorial eye in novels than in short stories, probably because of the length differences. Short stories have helped me tame a lot of my problems because I learned how to combine description with action. Often, if the description doesn’t fit in the action, I find that the information I’m trying to convey is unnecessary to the story.
I learned a lot about writing short stories in that semester. And though I am still proud of what I managed to write in that class, I have not written a true short story in a while. But I do incorporate several short stories into my novels. In a way, each chapter I write is a short story in itself, containing the three-act structure every story needs to succeed. The only difference is that each story contributes to the larger story arc.
Now I have a respect for all forms of writing, whether its short stories, journalistic pieces, novels or poetry. They all have a way of helping one improve one’s writing.