It’s been so long since I’ve worked with short stories.
They’re an entirely different creature than the novel. I’m used to having all the space I desire in which to stretch out, to play with the characters, to work with their histories, to twist in complementary plot lines. I struggle with finding the right size of story to tell in the short story format. It’s far too easy to take a novel-sized concept and try to cram it into the confines of the short story. But then I have to strip away the setting, the characters, the senses, just to make the story “fit.” And then the story’s broken. (I also have a bad habit of over-inflating a concept that can’t hold its own as a complete story.)
Short stories can be just as scarring as a novel when executed correctly. But I struggle with the tightness of the language (there’s room for a lot more language fluff in novels than there is in short stories.) Like a poem, every word has to count, and therefore every word needs to be the strongest option.
Of course, trying to rewrite a short story that was originally written to music while not listening to that original piece of music is a trial, too. I’ve been working on “Parking Lot Waltz,” trying to get to the root of the story. When I write novels, the theme tends to work in organically (unless I specifically decide to craft a novel around a particularly inspiring theme.) I play with the characters and the plot and the danger until the theme starts to come together, and then I can go back and tighten up the rest of the story to work with that theme. But I don’t have that kind of time with a short story. And since it’s been so long since I’ve seen a copy of the original story, I can’t remember what theme came up, if any.
So I put the original song on and let it play as I read what I’d already written. If you’re curious, it’s “Falling Asleep in Your Arms” by Jessie Farrell. It’s a really pretty-sounding waltz that for the longest time I mistook for a sweet love song with a taste of longing. Like her lover had gone away on a trip, and she was missing him and the feel of his arms around her as she drifted to sleep. I remember the shock of realizing that he’d left her in a sudden, wordless way that broke her heart, and she was pining for something she couldn’t have. Maybe even something that never really existed. And that realization was so complete that I can’t imagine how I could have listened to the song, even know the lyrics, and thought it was a happy one. Especially the first verse. I listen to that now, and all I can see is this broken woman, alone in a dusty apartment, accompanied by nothing but her grief.
I didn’t know what else to do with the story, so I tried to capture that moment.
I’m going to give it a few days, and then go back, see if it needs tweaking.
For now, I’m off to read some Shakespeare. Good night, all.