Back when I wrote a lot more short stories, I used to use each one as an opportunity for experimentation. This was partly because I feel experimentation is one of the best ways to improve your writing, and partly so I wouldn’t get bored.
I experimented with different aspects of craft and character. I wrote a story in first-person. I wrote stories in second-person present tense. I tried out a light-hearted, slangy character voice; I tried a dark, despairing character voice; I tried sounding like a fairy tale and I tried sounding like myth. This post isn’t really about whether I was successful or not. This post is more about what you need before you can experiment.
I looked back at some of those stories recently, and realized I wouldn’t have been able to write them if I’d tried to do so when, say, I was in college. At that point, I just didn’t have the chops. If you don’t have the basics of prose down cold, and have not yet found your own voice, it’s a lot harder to experiment. I think, once I started to sell those short experimental pieces, that I was ready for them, and it showed.
You can experiment as a beginner, and I think it’s good to do so, but I think it’s a lot harder to sell those experiments when you’re still getting control of your prose. I think, to make a style experiment salable, it needs to have some substance besides the experimental aspect. You have to be a good enough writer to play with more than one aspect of craft at a time. You have to be able to keep the basic architecture of your building from falling down while you layer on the gargoyles and little curlicues.
At least, that’s what I think right now. Doubtless a few years from now, after (hopefully) I’ve reached a new level in my writing, I’ll have yet another opinion.
One of the most useful blog posts I’ve seen this week:
Why you should blog to build your writing career even if you don’t think you need to by Justine Musk.