The Short Fiction Experiment — A to Z Reflections

A-to-Z+Reflection+[2015]+-+LgWell, the A to Z Challenge is done and dusted, but, truth be told, I’m still pretty exhausted from the whole thing. If I go dark and disappear from the Interwebs for a while, you’ll know why. But not before I write a post about the whole experience.

This was my second year participating in the challenge, but this is my first reflections post on it. I didn’t do one for last year, mainly because I didn’t really have anything to say. This year, however, I do. This year, I had a goal, and I wanted to explore the whole endeavor, as well as talk about what it might mean for the future of the blog (well, that sounds ominous, but it’s not, really).

 

The Goal

My goal for the challenge this year was to write a series of flash fiction stories of about 500 words or less. I wanted to do this because writing short fiction is something I’ve struggled with. My last attempt to write a short story of about 7000 words resulted in a 19,000-word novella. In other words: fail. (It’s still a good story though. So, really: win.)

Now, after doing the challenge, the idea of writing a 7000-word story sounds like sheer luxury. That doesn’t mean it still won’t be challenging, because it will be. A short story should be like any story, and have a clear beginning, middle, and end. And I know a lot of the stories I wrote for the challenge don’t fit that brief. Some of them were weird explorations or a moment in time. Other stories seemed like (and readers commented on this more than once) that they were part of a greater narrative. That there was more to the story not being told. And that, I think, is the biggest challenge of all. To make a story stand on it’s own, without wondering “what happens next?” Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to completely do that. Even my longer fiction has a tendency to leave doors open. I think it has to do with the way I view the world. Endings are often beginnings to something else, and I think that reflects in my writing.

 

The Result

Anyway, my impression was that, for the most part, my stories were too long—and some of them certainly were. The longest story came out at 1800 words. On the other end, though, the shortest was about 100. So I tallied up the numbers and then averaged them out. The result was about 500 words per entry. Mind. Blown. So, on average, the exercise was a great success!

 

My take on the whole thing

I feel like this whole challenge has been great for various reasons. I met a lot of amazing new folks and found quite few new blogs to follow, and got some new subscribers to my blog as well. Yay! I’ll also be bundling up the stories into an ebook and giving it to my subscribers as a thank you for putting up with me. And, of course, I got to flex my short story brain-muscles (now there’s an image), and as a result, I feel better equipped to write short fiction than I was before. Win.

It’s also given me a lot to think about. Namely, the type of content I share on the blog. I had so much fun writing the stories and sharing them, and they also seemed to have been enjoyed by others. It makes me want to continue along that line and to keep writing and sharing short fiction, if not regularly then semi-regularly. What kind of stories they will be, however, I’ve not yet decided.

 

Brainstorming

A couple of the stories I wrote that stand out (to me) as possible contenders for re-writing and/or expanding are Candleberry and Xanthoceras. But even these are taking a backseat to what’s really been occupying my mind: Hazel and Holly.

At first, I was thinking I might try writing a novel about them at a later point in time. Because, though I don’t yet know their story (I’m what’s lovingly referred to as a “pantser” as in, I write by the seat of my pants), it seems to be one that needs a novel to be told, and not a short story. Yet I dislike the idea of a novel for two reasons.

  •  I’m already working a series on novels that will take up the bulk of my time for at least the next two years. I could possibly write it alongside one of the other novels, but even if I did, I have a hard time seeing it published before 2017. And since it would be side-project, 2020 is still probably more likely.
  •  It doesn’t really help with my idea of wanting to share shorter fiction on my blog.

And that’s when I came to my current idea: serialization.

Now, I’ve never tried writing serialized fiction in my life, and no, writing a series of novels doesn’t count. When I think of serialized fiction, I think of short, chapter-length stories that can stand on their own feet by providing exciting content that entices the reader for more. And that’s the goal I have in mind for this project. Whether or not I’ll be able to pull that off, however, is a different matter completely.

 

Decisions

I’ll be honest, the idea of trying to write serialized fiction freaks me out a little bit, and I haven’t completely committed myself to the idea of it (yet). But, on the other hand, it’s a new challenge that could help me grow as a writer, and that’s pretty exciting. I feel like it’s something I’d like to try, I just need to work up the nerve and go for it. Which, honestly, is pretty much the story of my writerly life. It was really hard for me to put my fears and self-doubt aside and start writing in the first place, and then again to start this blog. So this could just be another step in that long and winding journey for me.

 

And now, some meaningless stats.

Just for funsies, here are some stats regarding blog traffic. We installed Google Analytics just a few days before the challenge, so it’s given me access to information about the blog I never had before.

Stories with the most comments:

Lastly, some blogs

Here are some of my favorite blogs during the challenge. Due to being The Slowest Reader In The World, I wasn’t able to visit all of these every day, and some I didn’t find until late in the challenge. But these are the ones I tried to get around to as much as I could. In no particular order:

The Multicolored Diary — Epic stories from across the world.

MopDog — 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

Djinnia and the English Language — Featuring posts about Wicca and paganism and history behind holidays.

Tasha’s Thinkings — Fictional Deities and Demons

Sophie’s Thoughts and Fumbles — Emotions and reactions in writing

Garden of Eden Blog —  Exploring the unconscious through dreams and their connection to our waking lives.

The Scheherazade Chronicles — Reflections from a caregiver caring for her mother in the final stages of dementia. Poignant and moving and beautifully written.

Positive Letters and Inspirational Stories — A tour through British Cornwall

J.H. Moncrieff — Creepy stuff.

A Doorway Between Worlds — Rogue words from A to Z. You know, the ones you can never get right.

Celine JeanJean — Stories from childhood. Some real, some made up.

Wee White Hoose — Scottish folklore

Storytelling Matters — Daily ghost posts

Writer In Transit — Flash fiction stories based on a photograph and word prompts, all under 300 words (consider me awed).

Scattergun Scribblings — Flash fiction of 100 words or less (more awe), based on a word prompt.

The Old Shelter — The Roaring Twenties

Tanya Miranda — Lighthearted, cute short stories, with an occasional creepy one thrown in.

 

And that’s a wrap.

 

What do you think? Would a serialized tale of Hazel and Holly be one you’d like to read? Are there any stories from the A to Z Challenge you’d like to see explored further? And how glad are you the challenge is over? Even if you didn’t participate, it must be nice seeing the blog and social media feeds go back to normal.


48 Comments

  1. I really loved your posts, Sara. Twinberry Tea sticks out in my mind, because I loved it so much I showed it to others. It was a world I didn’t want to leave.

    As someone who tried serialized fiction, I’ll tell you two things I ran up against–one, a lot of complaints. Lots of people were too impatient to wait a week for another instalment, and one was so angry she stopped reading. I knew attention spans are shorter these days, but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of hostility I received–just because people couldn’t read the entire book in one sitting.

    Two, the lack of apparent interest was disheartening. Granted, I had a 42-chapter novel, so maybe it was too long, but by the end, I was lucky if I got three or four comments per post, and that was pretty depressing sometimes.

    If you have a strong, patient following OR know you wouldn’t be bothered by these things, go for it! I just thought it might be helpful if I shared some of the difficulties I ran into.

    Congrats on surviving the challenge, and thanks for the shout-out! You were one of my favorites too. 🙂

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks for sharing your experience J.H.! It’s really helpful and gives me some additional points to consider and/or be prepared for. Pretty crazy that some folks complained about weekly updates. I mean, any faster than that, and it’s not really a serial. And thank you for the great posts! 🙂

  2. Yes! Please! I loved Hazel and Holly, and serialized fiction sounds like a great idea! Would you do it regularly (like, have a day of the week for it)? I would totally read all of that 🙂 Maybe you could weave some of the other ideas into that story eventually?…
    I really loved your theme this year, and you did the stories beautifully. And thank you for all the visits and the shout outs! I am glad you enjoyed my blogs 🙂
    I’ll be around!

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary
    MopDog

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks, Csenge! The schedule is something I’ve been pondering. I generally only blog once or twice a month, and so I’ve been gravitating towards that, but the general consensus seems to be 1 week intervals are best, and I agree that it would probably be better than twice a month. I need to think about how I can make that work.

      And I loved your blogs! You’re like a superhero to me, seriously.

  3. Aw! Thanks for including in your favorite’s list!

    Your posts were so fun and I personally can’t wait for your serial story.

    One of the editors at Reuts Publishing uses this site to publish her serial. I don’t know it its international.

    http://starterserials.com

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks for the link! Took a brief look but there could be good info there. And thank you for a great month! 🙂

  4. Hmmm serialize fiction is ok as long as you’re committed to writing a chapter a week. I’m actually reading a serialized story I’ve been subscribed to since ’09. $5 a month.

    But if you just want to explore Hazel and Holly more to see where they lead you, maybe just occasionaly posting “slices of life” maybe a better deal. Like what you’ve already done.Little windows from childhood to old age, in no particulate order, as they come to you. and then after a year or so, put them together and see what you have, what needs to be expanded on and what holes are still left. 🙂

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks for your input, Meg! I feel like, though, if I write about this, I need to approach it with a bit of discipline and a schedule, otherwise it might never get written. 😛

      I’ve not heard of paying to subscribe to a story. Unless, of course, installments are published at regular intervals which you then buy like any other book. What story is it, if you don’t mind my asking?

  5. I can’t wait for the bundle, personally. I wasn’t able to keep up with everyones A-Z challenge because so many did it this year I was constantly inundated, but the stories of yours that I did read, I loved, so I want to be able to sit down and read them all at once.

    Plus, short fiction is truly no joke. It’s hard to learn how to write it, but it’s a wonderful exercise in learning how to write for movement and not description. Once I started writing flash fiction, I was hooked! I haven’t for awhile, but I should get back into it.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks, Katie! I hope to get the bundle out soon-ish. Perhaps in a month or so. My biggest problem is figuring out the delivery system with MailChimp and all that. I’m glad you enjoyed the stories! And you should definitely give short fiction another go. 😀

  6. C-raig

    There was some really lovely stuff in this series; earthy & vivid. I think the seed that I am most excited about at this point is Xanthoceras…this feels like an H.G. Wells kinda thing. Your strength is definately in the portrayal of the wild world & the tangibles of magic. Hazel & Holly is a good choice!

    • Sara C. Snider

      Besides Hazel and Holly, Xanthoceras is the one I want to most go back to. That one actually does feel incomplete to me. Plus, I’m also getting a science fiction vibe from it (H.G Wells? Cool!), and I’ve never written a science fiction story before, so it could be fun.

      Thanks for the kind words, Craig. They mean a lot. 🙂

  7. I loved all your posts Sara – beautifully written using some lovely darkness, occasional light, trees and creatures and people in a most imaginative way. I’ll give it some thought as to which especially stood out for me.

    Open ended stories work for me …

    Yes it’s true that we have short attention spans these days –

    Yes, I’m pleased the challenge is over – great fun though it was, hard work, very time consuming, meeting lovely supportive kind people in the challenge – I would have loved to check out more blogs on the challenge but sometimes I know my limits! where did April go –

    That’s so kind thank you Sara for saying about my post! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thank you Susan! I feel like it’s going to take me the month of May to recover. 😉 Time certainly did fly. Thanks for a great month, though. 😀

  8. Lori Wing

    I love the idea of a weekly story about the Witch Hazel (Holly) Sisters. I can envision eventually bundling the collection together and illustrating it with pencil drawings for publication.
    So many of these flash fictions were compelling, and could certainly become novels of their own. Others would make lovely children’s books. Follow your intuition and go where it leads you.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Well now you’re making it complicated by including pencil drawings. 😉 It would be pretty cool though. Of course, I’m imagining Alan Lee’s artwork, but something tells me I can’t afford him.

      Thanks, Lori. I’ll try to follow my gut. 🙂

  9. Jennifer Tyron

    First of all, I’m so excited you are putting all the stories together in a published collection. I hope you’ll sell it as well. I really loved Candleberry and would like see more of that story, but the one that sticks with me most is Vinegar Tree. Strangely, I don’t need anything more from it however; it was perfect for me as it stands.

    I think the serialized idea is a great one! If I am not mistaken, I believe that is how Dickens published most of his works, and then bundled them up into the final books after the fact. Maybe a way to stave off potentially frustrated readers is to get a nice backlog of chapters ready before you start publishing?

    • Sara C. Snider

      I don’t think I’ll sell this collection, but I might take stories from it and put them in a separate collection down the road when I have more material. That would be pretty cool, I think.

      Serialization is how Dickens published most of his stuff. I just read an article about it not that long ago, which is what gave me this idea. Interestingly, Dickens’ stories were updated once a month, but I’m guessing that schedule wouldn’t fly nowadays. I do think I’ll need a backlog of chapters before I start posting them, especially if I update it weekly. It’s really the only way I could manage it, I think.

  10. I came late to your blog, but I really enjoyed it (and I mean to read at lest the last few entries, but even the earlier ones, if I can). My favourite so far is Vinager Tree, but I wouldn’t ask you to expand on it.

    Yes, it’s true, your stories tend to feel like part of a larger story, but that’s exactly what I liked about them. I’m not the kind of raedr who needs to know everything about the world and characters, I think leaving doors open it’s a great gift the author gives to the reader.
    Pity readers often don’t see the gift 🙁

    I love the idea of a serialized story. I actually follow one during the challenge, and that’s true, sometimes I was so eager to go on that I became impatient, but all in all I think having to wait allows you to taste the story better, to inhale all the flavour it can offers.
    It’s something I’ve laways wanted to try myself and never gotten around doing, mostly because I think serializing a story is very difficult. It isn’t just posting a chapter at a time, serialization (at least as I see it) is something more complex.

    I’ll be following your progress 🙂

    • Sara C. Snider

      Your vote for Vinegar Tree is the second one so far, which is pretty cool because I honestly didn’t know if people would like it. And it’s good to know you appreciate openness in fiction. I do too, but I’ve sometimes wondered if I’m the minority in that regard (and maybe we are, who knows). But your comment helps me go back to viewing it as a good thing, so thank you.

      I agree that serialization is more complex than just posting chapters of a novel, which is why it intimidates me. I know I can write a novel, I have no idea if I can write a serialized story. I suppose there’s only one way to find out. 😉

  11. Congrats on meeting your goal! I can’t wait to get your compilation. 😀

    I just now read Hawthorn, Hazel, Hemlock, and Holly and it definitely sounds like the beginning of a longer story. That was part of the charm in some of your stories – wondering and imagining what could happen next.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks Tanya! I’m glad you liked them. 🙂

  12. As a fellow writer, I also struggle with short fiction so a serious well done for sticking so well to your brief. So far every time I’ve set out to write a short story I’ve realised that it’s chapter 1 of a novel. Short story writing is such an art, and one that I have yet to master.

    The serialization idea is fantastic and perfect for the way reading is going (on iphones and tablets) but as you say it’s very ambitious. If you can pull it off it will no doubt teach you a hell of a lot as a writer. I think definitely give a whirl, at the very least you will grow as a writer and that’s always worth it! 🙂

    Congrats for such a fantastic A to Z challenge, you did a beautiful job with this one. Thank you very much for the shout out by the way, it’s great to hear that you enjoyed my little stories. And now we should all grab some well deserved ZZZZZ 😉

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thank you Celine! Your stories were great. They kind of transported me to my own childhood, which was fun.

      I think you’re right about giving the serialization a shot. Even if I fail miserably, it will undoubtedly be a learning experience, and that means something.

  13. The idea of writing serialized fiction freaks you out a little bit? That’s reason enough to try it.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Haha! I think you might be right about that, Liz. 😀

  14. Sara, you have written so well and thoughtfully here what might have been my alternative “Reflections” post.

    I, too, over-write in length. I struggled with this as a newspaper freelance features writer limited to 600 wds. I always came out with 800, then had to kill all my darlings only to have more show up, include them and have to kill them or some other darling. In truth, I am a 1,000 wd. writer — or more, the quintessential New Yorker or Harper’s candidate, were my writing up to that level of accomplishment.

    I have serialized on my blog; and for the A-Zs serialized an earlier “The Blue Deer” post, altering it to make each part a stand-alone story so that readers visiting in the middle would know, for example, who Moriarty and Dickens are. I took the serialization idea from Charles Dickens, who found newspaper serialization a way to increase his income. I just stopped the story at some high point, where hopefully the reader would want to know what happens next.

    Re your open ended stories, I again suggest reading Anton Chekhov. As a medical doctor, and one widely-traveled, he observed many facets and strata of life, and his stories basically say, “that’s life.” You do that already.

    I loved all of your stories, and will return to read the earlier ones in the alphabet.

    Anyway, as you can see by its length, this comment ought to be serialized.

    Thanks for the shout out. Now, I want to explore some intriguing blogs from your list.

    The very best to you.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, Samantha, and no–we won’t serialize it because I need to read it all now! 😉

      All the poor darlings you’ve had to kill. You’d think they’d see the carnage and stay away, but no, they keep showing up. 😛

      I didn’t know the Blue Deer was part of a serialized post, I’ll have to go back and read them all. And yes, Dickens. I keep thinking, “well if it worked for him, why not?” But then, different times, I guess. I think it has the potential to work now, but we’ll see if I can pull it off.

      And I will definitely check out Anton Chekhov. I’ve got a collection of his stories on my list for when I next buy books, which will be sooner rather than later, I think. I really look forward to reading them.

      It’s been great having you stop by, and I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the stories. The very best to you as well. 🙂

  15. Congrats! I enjoyed your stories, there was a real magic to them. I think it’s good the Challenge has got you thinking about lots of different options and ideas. I shared the issue of some visitors commenting stories seemed like part of a longer work, but it’s given me some good ideas going forward. Serialised fiction? Sounds interesting, my worry is people catching a story halfway through and not having time to catch up. I think it would be quite a trick to enable a reader to pick up at any point and letting stories stand alone while also being part of a wider arc is an admirable aim. I look forward to seeing what you’ve got in store. Thanks for the shout – I also mentioned you in my post!

    • Sara C. Snider

      Yes, I’ve thought about the possibility of people stumbling in halfway through the series. Like you say, hopefully the individual stories will stand enough on their own. If not, though, maybe a little recap at the beginning, summarizing what’s going on? We’ll see, I guess.

      Thanks, Nick! I’m glad you enjoyed the stories, and thank you for the shout out! 😀

  16. I’m not going to pick a favourite yet of the stories you posted, because I haven’t had a chance to read them all yet. Those I did manage to read were bright little gems, a sparkling oasis of word-ish wonderment to reward my over-blogged brain when I discovered your site.
    As for the serialization, I agree–you can’t really know until you give it a shot. Isn’t it shocking, as Tasha noted above, that some people can’t even wait a week for the next instalment without becoming abusive? You’ll have to hire blog security guards to escort those rabble-rousers off the premises!
    I see by your list that you and I share similar tastes in blog favourites, so I’ll be paying a visit to the other sites you’ve mentioned. So pleased that I found you, Sara.

    • Sara C. Snider

      “A sparkling oasis of word-ish wonderment” Aww, thank you so much for such a delightful compliment. And, yeah, I’m pretty baffled by the inability for some folks to play nice. Good idea about the security guards. Samantha has a blog ghost, maybe I need a blog bouncer. Oooh, he can be rather giant-like, and carry me around on his shoulder as I shriek and point to all the troublemakers who must be bounced. Eheh…

      I’m very pleased you found me as well. I look forward to much lurking on your blog, and probably being a general nuisance. 😉

  17. Good luck with your serial. I have a couple of serials that I am working on, with one and two stories out for each and it is a very different challenge to writing a novel. I look forward to following along with your experience :).

    I loved your stories this year, they had an ethereal, fairy tale quality to them, with sometimes complex ideas expressed in deceptively simple narrative. Very well done and yay for releasing them as an ebook!

    Thanks for the shout out.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Hey, that’s cool! Is your serial already out and I’ve been completely oblivious? I poked around your blog but didn’t see anything.

      Thanks Sophie! I’m really glad you liked the stories. And my pleasure! I thought your theme was fun. Emotions are an important element in life and writing, and it was fun taking a closer look at the why’s and how’s of them. 😀

  18. Yes, yes, yes, serialize Hazel! There was something about that one that really grabbed me. I can’t wait to have time to come back and savor your other work. If you serialize, I want to know…

    And I am so touched to be on your fave list, thank you soooo much 🙂

    Looking forward to our project!

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thanks, Jeri! I will more than likely attempt a serial. Not sure when I’ll start posting it though. So many stories, so little time! 😛

      My pleasure about the shout out, your theme was great! And me tooo! 😀

  19. Hi Sara!
    Thanks so much for the honorable mention, and I’m thrilled to be in such good company!
    I must confess that many of my A to Z pieces went over the intended 300 word mark… 🙂

    I LOVED your charming and magical pieces! They were so refreshing! So I’m surprised that writing short fiction is something you’ve struggled with.
    Congrats on surviving the A to Z!
    Keep in touch.

    • Sara C. Snider

      Well, the stories I read were all very brief and concise, so my awe of you remains intact (and I’m sure you didn’t have an 1800-word monstrosity). 😉

      And thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the little stories. Congrats to you as well!

  20. Huge congratulations on completing the challenge, Sara! I’d love to read a serialised version of Hazel and Holly. I think my favourite story was Scalybark Hickory. Aside from your wonderful writing, it’s such a delicious phrase to get your tongue around 🙂

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your A-Z posts and I very much look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Fee | Wee White Hoose

    • Sara C. Snider

      Thank you Fee! I need to get busy on that serial! I’m very glad you enjoyed the stories. Congratulations to you as well, and I’m also looking forward to hanging out on your blog in the future. 🙂

  21. It’s always fascinating to hear how authors tackle this sort of challenge: it definitely changes the way you look at writing, and it’s amazing what a difference it makes even after the event. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the A-Z Challenge next year!

    I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head about avoiding the “what happens next?” ending in short fiction. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but if it’s something you want to avoid and you’re struggling to keep the word count down, I find that beginnings can be implied in a way that endings can’t. Small details about a character can imply enough backstory for the middle to make sense and the ending to be significant even if they don’t provide a traditional “beginning” in themselves. It also offers a way to jump right into the action, which is handy when readers know they’re not in the story for the long haul.

    Best of luck with the serialised fiction. That sounds like it’ll be tough to keep up with, but on the other hand it could be a lot of fun and I’m sure it’ll be a good reason to keep writing regularly.

    • Sara C. Snider

      You know, I actually thought about you when doing this challenge, remembering your collections of stories when you tackled Flash Fiction Month. Taking part in the challenge would be right up your alley, I think. 😀

      Thanks for the advice! I don’t necessarily think a “what happens next” ending is a bad thing, but it could be nice to be able to do clear cut endings should I desire such an outcome. I will have to keep your advice in mind and see where that takes me.

      Yeah, the serialization kind of scares me, but I actually think I do fairly well writing under pressure. It makes me put something on a page, and that can be a very good thing. Thanks for stopping by Damon! It was great seeing you here.

  22. Just now getting around to visiting the blogs in the challenge. April was a busy month for me. Congrats on completing the A to Z Challenge! Looking forward to next year! See you on the Road Trip!

    Mary

    • Sara C. Snider

      Hi, Mary! April was pretty crazy, that’s for sure. Thanks for stopping by. 😀

  23. Serializing can be a great way to grow an audience! Keep us posted on how it’s going. 🙂

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