Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Writing Lesson #3: Isaac Asimov & Short Stories

I never saw "Star Wars" when it first came out. I first saw it on video, in 1982. I was on the brink of puberty, and it triggered a life-long obsession.

It also led to an interest in science fiction during my teenage years, and I devoured a great many of the classic sf writers – Ray Bradbury; Frank Herbert; Arthur C Clarke; Isaac Asimov.

Up to that point, everything I wrote was novel length. It never occurred to me to write anything shorter. I would have an idea for a plot and there would be a definite beginning, middle and end. All the characters had to have full names, and life histories, and all of this information would find its way into the story, as would a detailed physical description of each character.

However, when I discovered – and was completely bowled over by – Isaac Asimov, I made a point of reading every book of his I could find at the library. This included a couple of collections of short stories. I hadn’t read much short fiction before then. Indeed, I never realised there was a market for it. But I was impressed at the conciseness of Asimov’s short fiction. Through his stories, I learned that you didn’t have to include a convoluted life story of your characters. If a novel was a movie of a character’s life, a short story was a snapshot. It was just a moment in time. What they were doing before, or after, that moment wasn’t particularly relevant. It wasn’t necessary to have a detailed physical description of the character, nor was it necessary, in some cases, for them to even have a last name.

And this was a revelation. So, in a very real sense, Isaac Asimov taught me how to write short stories.

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