Becky’s Epiphany

I’ve never written a short story, but it’s been on my bucket list for an embarrassingly long time.

I want to use short stories in two ways — to give readers of my novels some pithy backstory “bonus feature” tidbits, and to perhaps encourage new readers to give my novels a try.

But I’ve been struggling with this. Every idea I have is too big, involves too many characters. People who know of such things have told me (repeatedly) the “rules” of short story writing — limited characters; limited plot; no backstory; establish character, setting and plot within the first paragraph or so; beginning, middle, and end; satisfying ending, perhaps with a twist — but nobody has successfully told me how, exactly, to do all of that in 5,000 words.

So I struggle.

Until the other day when I finshed a workout and had on my “Stretching Music” playlist.

Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” came on.

It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw. I’ve gone to look for America. “Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping. “I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.” Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America.

That there is a short story, locking me into Pigeon Pose for the entire three minutes and thirty-three seconds duration. Knowing I had to stretch my other hip flexor, I rearranged myself, mulling and probing this esoteric new concept.

Next, “And So It Goes” by Billy Joel came on and blew my mind the rest of the way. An entire story in 200 words. I’ve heard this song forty-leven bajillion times and never had this epiphany. (If you don’t know this song, stop reading right now and have a listen. It’s quite possibly my favorite song of all time.)

In every heart there is a room, a sanctuary safe and strong, to heal the wounds from lovers past, until a new one comes along….. I would choose to be with you, that’s if the choice were mine to make. But you can make decisions too, and you can have this heart to break. And so it goes, and so it goes, and you’re the only one who knows.
As a lover of all kinds of music, you’d think I would have had this epiphany much, much sooner. And here’s one more piece of evidence to show you how thick I’d been all these years. A couple of weeks ago when I was weeding my ancient manila folder labeled “Short Stories,” I found this note I’d scribbled to myself on the back of a discarded email dated July 1, 2014.
eleanor rigby
Songs are short stories. Who knew?
Everyone but me, apparently.
As I write this, I’m halfway through a project that I think [see me crossing my fingers?] is actually going to end up being a short story.
Have you had any epiphanies lately, writing or otherwise?
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Author: Becky Clark

I write mysteries with humor and spend my free time attempting to rid my clothing of dog hair. My book FICTION CAN BE MURDER, the first in the Mystery Writer's Mystery series, was out April 2018, and the next one, FOUL PLAY ON WORDS will be out April 2019.

24 thoughts on “Becky’s Epiphany”

    1. Yes! Short stories are my favorite to write, I think because you are so limited in what you can do. The format and length keep me from getting stuck in my own head, overwhelmed by possibilities (not that there aren’t possibilities in a short story, just that they are different and more limited). Finishing a novel, on the other hand – I’m up to three in progress, none finished. *sigh* My daughter has been writing songs for a while now, and I finally realized that for her, song writing is journal writing.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. When I used to write middle grade and YA, I orbited around the world of all children’s books. I lost count of how many times people said they were going to write picture books “because they’re so short and easy” when in reality, picture books are the very hardest thing to write. I refrained from saying, “Go ahead, tell a complete story in 800 words or less. Oh, and make it rhyme while you’re at it.”

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I think music and literature go hand in hand, and both tell stories in a unique way.

    Baron Birtcher uses music to enhance his novels. Each book has a “playlist” that goes along with the narrative. Song titles are included as a playlist but more commonly appear as the titles of chapters. The music provides a “multi-sensory” experience and really sets the mood of his stories. For example, in his most recent, “Fistful of Rain” the playlist consists of songs from the 1970s, and listening to the music in the background as I read really brought back the tension and turmoil of that time. It really enhanced my connection with the characters and the action. If you haven’t read one of his books while listening to the music, you really should try it.

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    1. I know that a lot of writers use soundtracks to put them in the mood of their project as they write — and as bonus features for their readers, which is genius — but this is a bit different. Not so much background music, but rather, songs as writing exercise.

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      1. absolutely different, but I think that the combination of music notes (cords, notes, progression) when paired with text make an impact more powerful than either by itself . People remember a song’s lyrics easier that they remember poetry alone.

        After all, who can really recite the alphabet without singing it?

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  2. I think a great example of a song as a short story is “Ode to Billy Joe”. You remember…when “Billie Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge”. People talked about the meaning of that song for years.

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  3. I sometimes use songs as listening/grammar/vocab practice in my classes (I teach ESL), and one of the ways I check comprehension is to have them read the lyrics and tell me what the story is. It’s so much fun!

    And short stories are HARD. Recently finished my first short story ever and it was way more difficult than I thought it’d be. It’s essentially backstory; for my first MS, I hint that my protagonist has a connection to the detective on the case due to some missteps in her past. My short story is about the events that made them first cross paths.

    It was a great exercise since it happened when my protag was a teenager. Even though I was familiar with this character, I got to use a different voice and thought process than with my novel.

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  4. Yes, I was talking about the same thing with someone at Malice Domestic. Songs–especially country and folk songs–are often the equivalent of flash fiction, telling a power-packed story in less than 200 words. And although I spent the 1990s writing song lyrics for my country band, Electric Range, I too had never tried my hand at a short story–until last month. And truly enjoyed it! So perhaps more are on the horizon… Good luck with yours, Becky–I know it will be terrific!

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    1. OF COURSE you were the songwriter in a country band! Every time you open your mouth, out comes some fascinating, unexpected tidbit about your past. You’re the most interesting person in the world, Leslie Karst!

      I can see why people like writing short stories. It’s way easier to add a clue to a 20-page story than a 400-page one!

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  5. So many things here to think about!

    A recent epiphany… I can find my story by sitting down and actually working on it even if I’m feeling unfocused and distracted.

    I received an “honerable mention” back in the dark ages for a short story I wrote. The max words were 2000.

    Years ago I decided that what I love about both country music and the blues is that both tell stories. So today’s epiphany is that ALL music can tell a story, I just have to be receptive.

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