I’ve read a lot of short stories lately, not because I decided to do just that, but because I love the form, and was in between novels. Some of the stories were good, some weren’t, and some fell into that category we all know—good to a point.
I’ve written quite a number of short stories and have endeavored always to give them all a distinct beginning, middle, and end. And, when I read a short story that’s what I want to see.
Most authors will tell you that they believe writing short stories is harder than writing novels. I’ve not found that to be true. I write both, and, for me, the key to writing short stories is in the tightening up of those essential elements of any storytelling—plot, character, mood, scene, etc. When I write a novel, those essential elements of storytelling can—and, I believe, must—give the reader the utmost sense of place and time as is possible; the reader’s imagination is primed only by what you give them with which to work their own magic on their traipse through the universe you’ve created for them. And, when I write a novel, I give the reader a lot with which to work. I love to do that. I believe it enhances the worth of the storytelling.
Short stories should provide the same thing. The only thing I skimp on with a short story is the timeline. The weeks, months, years portrayed in a novel, become only days or less in a short story. The other essential elements are always there, but, as I said, they’re tightened up. If the short story needs some grounding by history, then flashbacks are provided.
That said, again, both forms need a beginning, middle, and end. Most of the short stories I’ve read lately and placed in that good to a point category lacked an ending. There’s a beginning, a passable middle, but no end. That, for me, grates like fingernails across a blackboard.
Leaving a short story unresolved, giving the reader no sense of what the outcome is, or what will or might occur in the future is, I’ve concluded, a lazy author’s way of saying, “How the hell am I going to end this thing? Hell, I have no idea. No matter. Maybe they’ll just think I’m writing literary. Or being innovative. Or, well… Yes, of course. Maybe they’ll just think I’m just smarter than they are.”
I don’t understand this. Oh, I’m sure that with the popularity of series books—You know, number 37 in the “Boys in Love,” sequence of novellas—amorphous endings are probably the regular fare. (I don’t read series books. I read the first book in a very long series by an established M/M romance writer and, yes, the ending was as abrupt as a bull’s ire just released from the chute. Suffice it to say, I didn’t buy the next book in the series.)
Then, of course, is what appears to me to be the tendency of many M/M authors to concentrate on quantity rather than quality. I won’t pursue this thought, other than to suggest no matter how quickly you’re cranking them out, you can still give them a plausible ending.
Oh. In my prior post—my first—I promised an excerpt from “Whispers of Old Winds,” a short story published by Dreamspinner press in their 2015 Advent Calendar.
I’D ONCE told Michael about the Navajo kid in my unit who believed the lore of his ancestors was true and irrefutable. The kid’s name was Joe Hill, and his eyes would sparkle and his arms and hands would speak a language of their own when he’d sit with me and retell the stories he’d been told as a child by his grandparents and the elders of his tribe. There was the Sun God, who rode from east to west each day on one of his five horses, carrying the sun with him. And Spider Woman, who sat upon Spider Rock and taught the Navajo how to weave on a loom, using the sky and the earth as materials, with lightning and sun halos to perfect the strength, vibrance, and beauty of the weave. There was the First Woman, who married the Sun God and gave birth to the Sun God’s child, and then, after resting under a cliff and being sprinkled with stream water, she gave birth to the Water God’s child. Yes, and there were the stories of creatures who were once human but became shape-shifters through witchcraft when they desired to change or when the situation called for it. Joe called these creatures skinwalkers, who could take the form of the animals of the forest, desert, and plains.
“Did you believe the story about the skinwalkers?” Michael asked, his head resting on his arms as he lay on the rug of many colors in front of the rock-lined fireplace. The fire reflected in his brown eyes, and also the crystal glass into which I’d just poured more red wine. His hair, too, shined with the rise and fall of the flames.
“I think he believed it. He was a good kid—a good soldier. He was from northwestern New Mexico.”
The deadly quiet mountain night was upon us, the only illumination in the cabin coming from the fire. The rug provided its own heat, the Puebloan weavers surely having infused it with their own ancestral lore. I sat cross-legged in front of Michael and concluded that any happiness I’d ever sought in this world was at hand. I knew this simple moment would reside forever in that place in my mind where such precious things are stored for later retrieval, for the times when they’re needed the most.
“Were there skinwalkers in Iraq? Afghanistan?” Michael asked.
“Several incidences. Or so Joe said.”
“But you believed him?”
“To a point.” I paused to sip wine.
Michael sat up, faced me, and crossed his legs like mine. “Tell me,” he said, with the expression on his face that had come to explain so much about the man that fate or dumb luck or heaven above had brought into my life when I had needed him the most. It expressed Michael’s insatiable hunger for truths that were hidden behind opaque surfaces; he yearned to get to the bottom of things.