Writing isn’t too hard. Good writing is, however. At least it is for me. Not that I’m saying my writing is good. But I am trying to polish it as best I can. My method, so far, has been to get the words on the page first, then go back and clean up. Fine tune. It wasn’t all that hard to do when I wrote my first novel, Dragonlinked. Of course, I put the book out on Kindle before I knew even the little I now know about writing, so there are some errors. Mechanical issues, mostly. But it was not too bad an experience. Fun, even. Something I have found, however, is that writing a short story is not like writing longer prose. I’m writing one now, tentatively titled The Fruits of Death, featuring characters from Dragonlinked (available now for Kindle, but soon as a trade paperback as well). I hope to write a few more, but the process is much more difficult, so we shall see.
A short story is just that—short. There isn’t room to explain in detail, to spend too much time on anything. Words count for even more than say, in a novel. You have to trim and trim and trim some more. And it’s hard. Especially if there is back story you need to get across to the reader. With so few pages, even a mere four paragraphs of back story seems an interminable time to a reader. That wouldn’t be too much in a novel, perhaps, depending on presentation. But in a short story? No way. So I’m having to use some tricks and advice from my writing group.
Break up the back story into chunks and present them at different places. Have some of it presented as dialog between the main character and someone else, instead of just ‘remembering.’ And some of it can come through an argument. That also gives you a great opportunity to present the back story through two or more different eyes. They can remember it slightly differently and give readers some insight into their personality.
The other issue is pacing. ‘Put conflict on every page’ is advice I’ve read many places. But you should not keep the tension level at full power the whole time. You should include slow periods to give readers a break and to give them somewhere to go (up) when the next exciting scene comes along. Otherwise readers may get exhausted, or find the story artificial. But you can’t have the slow periods last too long, or you may bore readers. It’s a bit of a tightrope, getting everything just so.
And that’s why, for me, writing can sometimes feel like a trip to a dentist. But once it is done, once the words flow like a smooth, rich whiskey, say, then the sense of accomplishment is all the more powerful. So I keep plugging along, filing down a rough molar edge of dialog here, putting a nice ceramic finish on a description there. Hoping to get the words to sparkle.