Short and Simple and Not So Easy

Who hasn't looked at something other than what you're writing and thought, “Why am I not writing that?

I’m not talking about the shiny new idea that tempts you while you’re slogging through the Act II doldrums. I’m talking about the writing equivalent of staying up all night memorizing reagents for your Chem final while your roommate, the Radio TV Film major, watches movies for her homework.

Whatever this thing is, it’s shorter than what you write. It’s simpler. It has less parts. So you ask yourself, “How hard can that sci fi short story/romance novel/sitcom script be?”

When I signed on to write a contemporary romance novella (Passionate Persuasion, available now at any ebook retailer for the low, low price of 99¢), I thought: Only twenty thousand words?  Only one plot line? That will be easy.

The muses laughed.

Not because my books share shelf-space with Twilight, or because I’ve won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA® award. (Do you like how I worked that in there?) I know that writing romance is just as challenging as any other genre.

But it turns out that writing short and streamlined is hard.

Keeping it short: Shorter may be easier on your carpel tunnels, but it’s not necessarily a rest for your “little grey cells,” as Hercule Poirot would say. Every word has to count.

Think about writing a Tweet describing a funny encounter you had at the grocery store. In 140 characters, paint a picture of what happened. Now make it entertaining, with some kind of satisfying take away. There’s a knack to making more with less.

Keeping it simple but satisfying: With a small number of words to get the job done, you need a very straightforward through-line. I learned from watching Top Chef that if you throw in too many ingredients into one dish, nothing stands out. And who wouldn’t prefer a well-cooked meal of bacon and eggs than poorly prepared Eggs Benedict with reconstituted hollandaise sauce? (Now I’m hungry.)

Simple, like short, takes a lot of discipline. It doesn’t sound difficult--just come up with a great idea and don’t smother it!  But then I ran into the next thing.

Keeping it what it is. Writing a realistic story is not easier just because it has fewer elements (i.e., mystery and supernatural) to juggle. In fact, as much as I love to write sexual tension and romantic banter, I found it very challenging to keep the tension high when all I had to work with was the characters and their baggage.  Normally when energy sags, a ghost shows up, or the intrepid girl detective gets hit on the head. Heroine getting on too well with the love interest? Gosh, I hope he’s not secretly a vampire.

Genre plots supply complicating elements. But in a contemporary romance, the conflict has to come from the hero and heroine’s situations, psychology or backstories. The hard part is not keeping the couple apart, it’s making sure their primary conflict isn’t stupidity. (I imagine a literary story has it’s own unique problems within the constraints of reality.)

All characters need realistic and relatable motivations, of course. But in the limited space of a short story or novella, you don’t have the luxury of more plot elements or extra chapters or surprise vampires. (Well, maybe surprise vampires.)

The answer to “How hard can it be?” then is, “The same amount of hard as anything else.”  Writing is a challenge but (hopefully!) rewarding, and every project—short, long, genre, literary, whatever—has unique challenges. So go conquer them!

--Rosemary Clement-Moore, DFWWW member since 2005

photo credit: Kathleen Tyler Conklin via photopin cc

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