by Roger Johns
If the title of this blog post has got you thinking about that long-ago Randy Newman song, then your thoughts are headed in the wrong direction. It refers to word-count, not inch-count. In the writing community, especially, it seems, in the crime fiction part of the writing community, there’s something of a verbal divide between the practitioners. Some are primarily (even, exclusively) novel writers (we’ll call these folks ‘long people’) and some are primarily (even, exclusively) short story writers (we’ll call these folks ‘short people’). Interestingly, most of the members of this blog have a foot firmly in each camp. I don’t have a name for that (neither ‘medium people’ nor ‘intermediate people’ really capture my imagination). But, I’m a bit late to the game, in this regard. For years, after I set out on my writing journey, I focused exclusively on long form fiction—mostly out of fear. Some really wise and well-known person (whose name I forget) allegedly once confessed to a correspondent that he was sorry for writing such a long letter, but he hadn’t had the time to write a shorter one. And, therein, lay the source of my fear. Getting the point across in fewer words, it turns out, is much more difficult than indulging the luxury of a lot of words, and I was afraid of failure—that I would fail to produce anything that could get published, or that I’d somehow get something published, but readers would snicker. Well, somewhere along the line, my thinking changed. Ideas I had for book-length fiction turned out to be unequal to the task of sustaining a long narrative, so I tried to work them out in shorter form. I also noticed (with some encouragement from those who were reading my long stuff) that maybe there were elements of my story-telling and prose styling that needed some work. That got me to thinking that if I could somehow learn to work in the shorter medium, I’d be able to use some of those short-running ideas and deal with the shortcomings in my writing, at the same time. So, doing what most aspirants to any endeavor do, I found someone who was doing what I wanted to be able to do and studied their technique. And there are plenty of incredibly talented short story writers out there—so good, it’ll make you weep with envy (at least, that’s why I was weeping). It’s been an interesting road to go down, and over the last two years, I’ve managed to get a few shorts published. Whether I’ve successfully ironed out the wrinkles in my other writing, I’ll leave to others to decide. But, it’s been an illuminating experience, and I feel as if I’ve learned a lot about how to say what I want to in a more economical way. And while, on some days, I wish I had begun my writing career by trying my hand a writing short stories, rather than novels, I’m grateful I finally found my way into the population of short people. I still find going short a daunting experience, but it’s also exhilarating, and I fully recommend it as a way build enthusiasm for the craft. In fact, I’m now an evangelizing convert for the form, both as a reader and a writer, and I wish everyone great success and huge fun if you decide to become a short person.
ROGER JOHNS is the author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries, Dark River Rising and River of Secrets, from St. Martin’s Press. He is a 2018 Georgia Author of the Year, a two-time Finalist for Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion Award, and runner-up for the 2019 Frank Yerby Award. His short fiction appears (or is forthcoming) in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Dark City Crime & Mystery Magazine, and Yellow Mama. Roger’s articles and interviews about writing and career management appear in Southern Literary Review, Writer Unboxed, and Southern Writers Magazine. Website: http://www.rogerjohnsbooks.com.