Writing is an interesting process. As a habit, I tend to think of novels as the primary form within which I chose to work. That said, I’ve written quite a few short stories, one of which I submitted to the SixFold contest for the winter publication. Since that deadline already passed and it’s still open, I can’t tell you what I submitted till I’ve either been kicked out or the results are announced. My submission sparked a conversation with a friend where we discussed how ideas often circulate through different stories.
My friend Andrew, who writes with me over on Broken Baseball Services, pointed out that a few of the passages in the story I submitted seemed to be borrowed from my novel, the Tears of the Phoenix. Interestingly enough, the opposite is true. Those situations and exchanges came from the story I submitted (from now on I’ll refer to that story as the Nameless Short).
First things first, I have no compunction about taking ideas from one story to another. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Short stories are a test bed for ideas, places I’ll often write a scene to see if the dynamic works, or if I’m simply good enough to pull the scene off. Some times I can’t, so I just leave the details outline. Other times, it works wonderfully.
Secondly, I understand the idea of plagiarizing. Even plagiarism of ones own works. I accidentally plagiarized myself in a lab report once in college. Anyway, the point is that I don’t consider the ideas from the Nameless Short to be less than those I used in the Tears of the Phoenix. Certainly, since it’s not published, it’s less of an issue.
Short stories allow me to play with ideas and words, distilling concepts that I otherwise couldn’t figure out down to manageable circumstances. A great example is the Nameless Short. When I first wrote it, it was over 50 pages and almost 13,000 words. During revision, I was able to cut out the core story beats, reducing the concept to a 3,000 word short story which I think works much better, with as rich a world.
The concept clearly works in reverse as well. There are stories I thought might have longer legs to them that have ended up as shorts. The Nameless Story is a good example, though much of that was inspired by my molecular cell biology class and testing realistic fantasy.
The ideas I pluck out that work for my book because I everything I write is geared towards them. Could I repeat myself? Absolutely. Am I scared that I will? Not, scared, but I am concerned. There’s nothing worse than saying the same thing over and over with nothing interesting to approach. Yes, ideas are often shared, but for right now, I don’t have to worry about the legal implications because nothings published. Then again, how can I really tell which ideas are which when they’re all banging around inside my head. Even Aaron Sokrin loves to repeat certain ideas and phrases and I’m certainly not in his league.