When asked to write a short story I knew I was going to have to take a different approach. I have a tendency to allow layers to multiply wildly in my novels. Think Jennifer Anniston famous haircut layers.
Sitting to write a short story, however, I took a nesting doll approach.
My mom had a set of these I couldn’t get enough of as a kid. I loved to open up each doll at the center and fit the smaller ones inside. In order to craft a short story, I found myself doing the exact opposite. I needed to open each larger nesting doll in order to get to the smallest, most detailed doll. The entirety of my story was that doll—the smallest one.
How does this translate to transitioning from novel-writing to developing a short story?
I could fit the smallest doll easily in my fingers
When working with a short story I had to be careful not to overcomplicate with subplots and numerous plot lines. I needed a clear vision for the entire story in my hands.
Understanding each character in sharp detail
I do this with novels as well, but with a short story I had fewer characters to work with. Every single one had to be written with concise purpose.
Particulars tied to something larger
The lines and clothing painted on the smallest doll often resemble what’s found on the largest one. In fewer pages than I’m used to working with, I established a story that spoke to larger truths on a greater scale.
Relationship to others
Every aspect of the short story focused how one relationship effected another. As with nesting dolls, they are stacked in a certain order. Each nesting doll relates to another in a specific way.
Evoking voice & language
Even as a child I could tell the nesting dolls were Russian by the style of dress painted on each one. Little can tell a lot.
Desire to reach the smallest doll
By establishing a clear picture of what the protagonist wants, I worked to evoke that same desire in the reader. The reader, in turn, longed for what protagonist wanted, cheering them on the journey.
As a kid, sitting down to play, I couldn’t wait to get all the dolls open until I reached that smallest doll. That one seemed the real treasure.
And now I get it why people love crafting short stories. Although challenging, the process of writing short stretched me as a writer. And for that, I’ll always be grateful.