Day Sixty-Two: Reacquainting with the Short Story

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.

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