My newest project is a bit of a departure for me. I’ve been working on a series of short stories that are super, super personal and so far it’s been a great challenge. I’ve learned a lot by playing around with a different form than what I’m used to.
Having spent so much time on screenwriting, I’m hyper aware of the importance of being specific. Screenplays are a tough medium because the only tools you have to tell the story are the things that the audience/reader sees and hears. In the short story, it’s tempting to go really broad because you can. You can talk about things in general, universal terms. You can explain what characters are thinking. You can sort of go off on tangents and you can editorialize wherever you want.
It feels great to have that freedom, but I’m trying not to overdo it.
What I hope is going to be a strength of my writing on this project is the details and the focus on story rather than philosophizing. I’m trying to stay grounded in specific, visceral memories and using those to tell a bigger story rather than having these pieces read like diary entries.
And I think that’s often what’s missing when you read a piece of writing that doesn’t pop. It usually doesn’t have enough detail and is content to settle for broad thoughts, broad language, broad ideas.
The more personal something is, the more universal it is. I think sometimes trying to write universal means you don’t really connect with anyone.
But the details are also one of the hardest parts of storytelling. It’s really easy to say something like, “This is a story about a man coming to terms with the death of his mother.” But what does that actually look like? What does he do or say that lets us know he’s “come to terms” with it? And how do you make it dramatic and interesting along the way?
Just because a certain form might have more freedom and flexibility doesn’t mean the process is going to be any easier. You still have to answer these types of questions.
Ultimately, writing short stories has been a great reminder that the basic elements of storytelling are always the same, no matter what medium you’re working in.
And great stories always come down to the details.