Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lindsay Duncan Discusses Short Fiction

 Today, I am pleased to present author Lindsey Duncan, a fantastic writer that we have published in Mindflights. She's celebrating the release of her contemporary fantasy novel, Flow. She's here to talk about short fiction, a topic near and dear to my heart. Take it away, Lindsey!

Angie asked me to talk about how short stories have helped my writing and career.  I thought this was a great topic, especially as I started as one of those authors who was a novelist and nothing else.  For years, I actively resisted the idea of writing short fiction.  I thought it took attention away from what I wanted to do; I thought there was no way that I, personally, could fit a satisfying story into the short form.  My encounters with magazines and anthology at the times hadn’t been encouraging, either:  at one point, reading a shared-world anthology that shall not be named, I saw a description of a building as “a four-sided square,” and that about killed me for reading short stories to the tune of years.  Straws, camel’s backs.

I finally turned my thoughts to writing short fiction again as a purely pragmatic endeavor.  I had heard that short fiction credits attracted the attention of agents and publishers.  That was all – I hadn’t considered the financial or creative side.  It was just a stepping stone.  I started brainstorming ideas for short stories, mostly scenarios inspired by mythology or sayings or back-stories for characters.  Many of these weren’t, speaking from objective hindsight, really suited for stories – more like vignettes.

One of the first short stories I wrote was inspired by a Serbian legend of an unusual werewolf origin:  drinking out of the footprints of another werewolf.  An intriguing concept, but the story I produced had nothing else unusual to recommend it.  It ended up on the retirement shelf quickly, as did the next few.  One “stuck,” but still opened like a novel (that is, too slowly for the form).  I rewrote it years later, and it’s now making the submission rounds.

I also started reading short fiction again, and found the enjoyment of it at last, in particular from two sources:  the often-light but stylish Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and anthologies.  Anthologies have become an obsession of mine ...or at least, themed anthologies.  I’m still neutral on best-of and other such unthemed compilations, because a good portion of the enjoyment is the common thread and how diverse the interpretations are.

I blundered around with other short stories and finally made my first sale – ever.  To cap off the enjoyment – or the irony? – it was a story I had rewritten from scratch in a few days in response to a themed anthology call.  I screamed, I freaked my parents out (was still at home then), and I … bled.  Yes.  I gave myself a paper Shcut on my first acceptance letter.

Chicken or the egg?  I cannot honestly say that finding true enjoyment in short fiction didn’t have something to do with the thrill of publication – but it’s not why that enjoyment endured.  Because I found aspects about short fiction that I adored:  the ability to take those countless small ideas that wouldn’t sustain a novel and build a great story around them; creating new characters who I could love and leave; the sometime fiendish puzzle of trying to work out how to suggest setting, character and backstory in an opening while kicking the plot into motion; the art of implying a setting with only brushstrokes and hints. 

I’ve also done a few whacky things, like a story with two versions of the ending (framing the story in a completely different fashion), a story that occurs entirely as “dialogue” between two chars trapped in a single body, and a story in first person plural, present tense.  I didn’t set out to do anything strange, but I had ideas that needed the unusual vehicle, and the short form allowed me to attempt experiments that would be (for me!) untenably bizarre in long form.

Most of my short fiction still has that novel feel the sense that I rarely have tidy endings – I describe my most common ending as answering the plot problem with, “Yes, but …”  I like the sensation that the character’s lives continue on far longer than the tale can tell.  In some ways, this is another advantage to short stories:  the glimpse is much more brief than in a novel, so the possibilities are much wider.  When your character has trekked the length and breadth of the land, found true love and fought dark hordes, their next moves  are somewhat more defined than if the sum of their “on-camera” action is escaping an over-enthusiastic suitor.

How has short fiction helped my writing?  I have learned a lot about pacing, economy of words, and allowing descriptions to serve double and triple duty.  I have flexed my mental muscles in generating and executing more ideas, worlds and characters than I could sanely have produced at novel length.  And I have been able to take a break and “rescue” myself from the slog of novel writing to finish something shorter and experience that satisfaction.

How has short fiction helped my career?  I can’t say for sure it has had any direct impact on how editors or agents view me.  What I can say is that it has provided me with the opportunity to do my first book-signing and two live readings.  It has also given me experience with the give-and-take of making an editor’s requested changes.

And being paid doesn’t hurt, either.  But more than that, I have learned from short fiction that people are willing to pay me for my words, that I have some knack worth purchasing – and that helps me know my writing is on track.

Thanks so much, Lindsey!

LINDSEY DUNCAN is the author of contemporary fantasy Flow, just released by Double Dragon Publishing.  Flow follows the water-witch Chailyn, on dry land for her first mission, and Kit, a contemporary teen with mysterious powers, as they seek the man who killed Kit's mother ... a goal which catches the interest of the darkest of fairies.  They must also deal with the Borderwatch, a zealous organization that hunts fairies and has been in a cold war with the water-witches for decades.

Flow can be found here:

To tie back to this post, three of her short stories are also available for individual sale:

Taming the Weald:
The Naming Braid: 


Mary E Campbell said...

I never thought I'd write short stories either. Brevity is not my specialty. I have found that a short story offers quick satisfaction and keeps me writing what I get stuck in my novel. One of my short stories was recently chosen to be in a themed anthology and it's wet my appetite to write more short stories and find homes for them.
I find more and more people are writing anthologies and I'm glad the short story art is being cultivated again.

Carolyn V said...

I love the short stories too. I had to study a little about them in college. They are harder to write, but they sure teach one to writer better (and tighter).

Excellent post.

Lindsey Duncan said...


I don't think I mentioned here - I particularly love being able to turn out a good piece of flash fiction. Talk about needing to make every word count ...

Angie said...

Flash fiction is awesome. Thanks, Lindsey!

Cherie Reich said...

Short stories are great practice in word economy and the like. Plus, there are too many ideas and not all can be novel-length. :)

Terry W. Ervin II said...

Yep, short stories help with economy of words, and reading short fiction helps with writing them, just like reading novels helps with reading novels. It sets the foundation, demonstrates process and methods and inspires.

It's cool, Lindsay Duncan, how you dusted off and revisited previous efforts at stories. A good reason never to delete what didn't initially seem to work just right.

Enjoyed your post :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

This is a great post on short fictino writing - I think she said it all - it's definitely a place to experiment, flex our writing muscles, and learn brevity (something I really need). Thanks for the awesome post!!!

L.T. Elliot said...

Short story writers are artists. So are poets. Seriously, having to condense like that is mind-boggling!