It happens almost every time I get into a discussion over religious issues with someone who denies the existence of God: I say something like, “An atheist like yourself…” and somewhere soon after they say, “I don’t call myself an atheist…” or “I don’t like the label atheist…” I’ve often wondered what is behind that hesitation to accept the label.
But that doesn’t really have anything to do with the point of this post. I just thought it was interesting. This post does have to do with labels, though, in relation to stories.
For several years it has been my habit that when I get a thrilling new idea for a story, I open up my master Word file of story ideas and write out a working title and a paragraph describing the idea. I used to get excited and start the opening salvo of writing up the story itself, but I quickly realized that I get too many ideas in a given week to keep up with them all if I want to ever finish a story. So the master file has been a good way to store these ideas in the background without losing sight of them as potential.
Some of these ideas end up developing into the microfictions or short stories that I have posted on this blog, but there are so many that have yet to see the light of day. I came to an epiphany the other day about why that might be, though. I have a tendency (and it’s probably a bad one) to get an idea, think about it for a while, write down my description, and sort of slot it in – label it, you might say – as being an idea for a short story or for a novel.
That’s a bit pretentious for a guy who hasn’t yet actually taken a story to novel length and cleaned it up to the point of being worth reading.
It’s also a bit limiting, because there have been days I have sat down to work on a short story and found my list of short story ideas empty, meanwhile I’m not even touching my ever growing list of novel ideas. It was the other day when I was looking through some of those ideas that I realized that while I had labeled them as ideas for a novel length story, there really wasn’t much of a story there. Maybe something long enough to be called novella, maybe something that could get as long as 20,000 words, but certainly not enough to get to a novel sized. That would take a lot more work.
And I asked myself why I wasn’t taking one of those ideas and developing it into a short story.
And then I asked myself what is the good in preordaining a story’s length in the first place.
That’s really the point, isn’t it? Why should I be so limiting, so rigid of my stories as that? How is that serving my story?
I started thinking about some of the greats in the world of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, guys like Anthony, Asimov, Vance, and so on. Their “short stories” aren’t really so short, and some of them are quite involved and complicated. Much more involved and complicated than some of the ideas I have. And reading their commentaries or listening to interviews with them, they oftne comment that they just write and find out how long a story is going to take to tell when they get to the end of the telling. In other words, they aren’t labeling their stories according to length at the outset. Why am I?
So I’m done labeling my ideas according to length. I’m just going to write, and see what it takes to tell the story. Seems kind of obvious, actually.