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Thread: How complex are your short stories?

  1. #1
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    How complex are your short stories?

    Reading some of the top literary journals, the more I see how complex are the short stories they are publishing. Each story seems to have many layers to it. It has me wondering if my story lines are too simple. Are multi-layer stories something you strive for? Any tips for pulling this off?

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW archerjoe's Avatar
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    True - there are some amazing short stories with lots of complexity. I've also read some beautiful stories that were simple in structure but told a good story.

    Personally, I try to stay true to the story. If the story is relatively simple and straightforward, tell it like it is. Make it shine. Anytime I've tried to put in unnecessary structure to make it more complex, it's fallen flat.
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  3. #3
    post-apocalyptic bunny drachin8's Avatar
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    I think the most important thing is to experiment with your writing until you figure out what kind of stories you want to write. Then find magazines that buy the style of fiction you enjoy writing.


    My first short stories were very straightforward, not particularly complex, and over time I discovered that they were not really what I wanted to write. It was only when those layers of complexity and subtlety entered my stories that I really became comfortable and happy with what I was doing. However, those early stories were critical in my path of self-discovery.

    That being said, I enjoy reading both complex stories and simple stories, all depending on my mood. So there is room for all. Just figure out what kind of story speaks to you and go with it.

    As for complexity-adding strategies, I tend to just write my first draft of the story and then look at how to strengthen during editing certain themes and elements that appear in that draft. I don't usually know what those elements will be until the first draft is done, though.




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  4. #4
    Snarkenfaugister Friendly Frog's Avatar
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    I'm usually not a fan of very complex short stories, neither in reading or writing. Most of the layers will no doubt pass me by anyway. This was especially bad in highschool book reports, where one instance a teacher saw a story of coping with grief and mortality and I just saw a guy on a pointless road trip in Norway.

    If you like and want to write complex stories, go for it. If you like simple ones, go for simple ones. Both will find an audience.

  5. #5
    ~~~~*~~~~ backslashbaby's Avatar
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    Read a lot of complex stories. I think you develop an ear for it after a while.

    I do write complex shorts I have a terrible time writing anything else, unfortunately But if you like to think about a story in 10 different ways while/after you read it, I'm your gal! For better or worse
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  6. #6
    Caped Codder jaksen's Avatar
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    Mine are complex, but they're traditional mysteries.

    Well I think they're complex.
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  7. #7
    permaflounced
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    Mine are complex. At least I try and make them that way. Many many layers, depth and all that stuff.

    Oh yeah, and I always address the human condition.

    I don't think simple stories are as satisfying. But complex doesn't have to mean convoluted. Sometimes simple is complex. Practice makes perfect. If not, then revision comes pretty damn close.

  8. #8
    <><'ing for compliments PPartisan's Avatar
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    I don't quite understand what a complex short story is supposed to be - is it the case that a simple one is just superficial entertainment, whereas a complex story can be read into as analogies for this and that etc.?
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  9. #9
    Book lover/Spy Sai's Avatar
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    My stories are like a rubik's cube tucked inside a puzzle box located at the heart of a ginormous Rube Goldberg machine. What I'm saying is that they're pretty complex.

    Just kidding . I usually like to have one idea, just one concept that I can center a story around. If there's additional complexity beyond that, it's usually unintentional.
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  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW Silver-Midnight's Avatar
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    I don't think my stories are that complex, but that's just my opinion. I really don't know.

  11. #11
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    The best short stories being published by top literary journals are all pretty complex. I want to be able to do that. I just tried to write something similar to what I have been reading in The Gettysburg Review, but I do think it is hard to pull off.

  12. #12
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    I've just tried a couple of prequel shorts to bolster my book. I used to write them 23 years ago, so it was a task to get back into that short format. I kept them simple and linear, not wanting to add too many layers to what were straight forward rescue missions. I did have minor hooks to both of them, nothing spectacular.

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  13. #13
    Picking Up the Pieces BradyBones's Avatar
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    I like to hide many layers to a story behind a very simple premise. That way there's a lot more to a story if you choose to read into it, but for readers who just want a quick story it doesn't get in the way. That can be very hard to pull off, and sometimes I get stalled for a long time before I can get it just right.

    "The Viability of a Seed" actually took me 2 years to finish. Most of that was due to some personal growth that had to happen on my part before the story could come together.

    My stories have really touched some of the people who have read them, even coaxing tears from some. To me, that's one of the highest honors of being an author. Tears are pure gold.

  14. #14
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    Sai,

    Mine sound like BradyBones'. You can read them at face value (ih, sometimes not so much with mine) but they could also be 'about' something else. The reader's own perceptions direct which way the story goes for them. I find that great fun designing

    It's kind of like song lyrics, maybe? Dunno, but that's what comes out with most of my shorts. The shorter, the more they could mean, too
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  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW
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    I am in awe of complex stories and trying to mimic this. I just finished my first truly complex story, and I think it is my best one yet. However, now I am wondering if I should add even more to it. How do you judge if your story is complex enough?

  16. #16
    More cowbell! randi.lee's Avatar
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    Typically, when I write a short story I open up a Word document and type until I've come to an ending. I don't overthink it or try to make it complex. I just let the words do what they want to do.

    However, I've had a lot of people read more into my stories than is actually there. Perhaps the complexity is subconscious? I don't know. Either way, it feels like my stories are simple.

    As for preference, I prefer simple stories with straight forward messages. I'm most certainly not saying that this is the case for everyone, but I've read stories that have tried to be complex and ended up feeling like the writer was trying too hard.

    Again, not every complex story feels like this- my idea of a good writer is one who knows when to draw a line- but it is my opinion that sometimes when you put too much into a story you end up getting nothing out of it.
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  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW Official AW W1S1 Badge Wrangler Lillie's Avatar
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    I wrote this story once, and I got some crits on it from an online site (not here), and one person told me all this stuff about what my story meant, and how stuff in it was symbolic and significant.

    I was gobsmacked.
    I never knew all that stuff was in there.

    Sounded good though, so I pretended I'd done it on purpose.


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  18. #18
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I've only finished a couple so far, complexity isn't really something i have thought about. I tend to think of an idea, or a character I want to write about and then take it from there. I doubt there are hidden depths within my stories, but then I'm not aiming for literary journals, so it wont be a problem

  19. #19
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    I don't even think about complexity, but some of my stories are very complex. I don't think complexity or layers are things to be planned. You can't inserts complexities and layers just to have them, or they stand out like chocolate chips in a cookie.

    The story itself comes with complexities and layers as a natural part of the plot.

  20. #20
    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    You can easily have layers of meaning and/or complete plot in a short story if you choose to. I generally aim for the latter as my main goal.

  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW JustJas's Avatar
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    Sometimes when you set out with a simple idea the layers then start to emerge as you write it. I love it when this happens because it's nice to be surprised by your own creations. For example I'm currently working on a short romance and I did not realize that the mc's relationship with her mother was going to become just as central to the story, if not more so, than the romantic relationship.

  22. #22
    You don't have coffee? Go away. WordCount's Avatar
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    Simplicity and bluntness work just as well--when done right. When not done right, it doesn't. At all.

    Usually, if it's extremely complex, it's most likely a mystery, thriller, science fiction, or fantasy. Romance can, too. But usually these are the ones that shine in the department of having many layers and many things to contemplate on--especially mysteries and thrillers. That's what the they strive for. If it's a who-dunnit, you need to be wondering WHO-DUNNIT! And to do that, correctly, means lots and lots of layers.

    I write mystery and thrillers so I try my best to make things as hard to figure out as possible. Sure, everyone likes guessing the killer and being right, but when you can guess it from the start, that's no fun. No fun at all.

  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW Rufus Leeking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lillie View Post
    I wrote this story once, and I got some crits on it from an online site (not here), and one person told me all this stuff about what my story meant, and how stuff in it was symbolic and significant.

    I was gobsmacked.
    I never knew all that stuff was in there.

    Sounded good though, so I pretended I'd done it on purpose.
    there's the funniest interview with Chrissie Hynde where the interviewer was telling her what her lyrics meant, and she keeps saying "wow, really?" The guy never realized he seemed the complete ass.

    I think a lot of the literary journals like stories that aren't stories. Some of them seem to publish things that have a beginning, a middle and then a character staring at em's navel for a few pages. It's a style, and it's complex I suppose, but if one doesn't want to write that I wouldn't think you need to.
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  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustJas View Post
    Sometimes when you set out with a simple idea the layers then start to emerge as you write it. .
    This is how I think it works best. The story generates teh complexity, not the whims of the writer. If complexities and layers aren't simply a natural part of the story you're telling, good luck on trying to sell the finished product.

  25. #25
    ~~~~*~~~~ backslashbaby's Avatar
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    One thing I think you can tweak, but it may just be a matter of writing well in the first place, is the 'flavor' of metaphors used, etc. When you describe things there is a good opportunity to point to other things (the layers).

    That idea includes all the symbolism you've probably read and joked about, but I'm serious. I'm not saying to stick in the symbolism, but you can point to it while you are already describing what needs to be described anyway.

    Just don't be too obvious about it either. That reads badly

    eta: an obvious example is using the weather to set a mood. That's not the best example, but y'all know the sort of thing I'm talking about with it, I bet.
    It's Woman, by Kraft. All your favourite classic flavours like virgin, whore, damsel, black widow and now all-new feminazi! Extra spicy!
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    And he raved of saving me

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