How can something so short be so difficult?

All my life I’ve written long form fiction. I wrote a few plays as a kid, and then novels as I entered my teens, and that trend has continued into chronological, if not emotional, adulthood. The concept of how to write short stories has always been somewhat foreign to me. I took a short story course once in college and the professor said “Your stories read like Bruce Willis movies. Chill out.”

 

It’s not like I haven’t wanted to write short stories; I’ve had some great ideas that fit better into the short arena than as novels or even novellas. But my brain can’t wrap itself around the technical process… As far as I can tell, it requires a tremendous amount of skill to convey character, setting, and plot in just a few thousand words. Apparently I’m not that talented.

 

Most of the time, my ineptitude in short form isn’t a problem, as I have plenty to write about in long form to keep my brain busy. But right now, the thing that is demanding to be produced is a short story. And when I say “demanding” I mean, my brain won’t ponder my current novel, or anything else. Just this story.

 

So shut up and write it, right?

 

My writer muscle is locked in a concrete padded cell. I’m overwhelmed and scared and convinced this is an impossible task. But I’ve got my pencil out and I’m using the eraser end to chip away at the concrete.

 

My very first question: How do I get the emotional back story in when I haven‘t got 85000 words to scatter it through? And my second: How do I make the reader understand the complicated, morally-questionable premise that’s on the table, and the resulting decision, when I don’t get to spend at least a few pages laying the groundwork? I pretty much need to jump in to the emotional action here, but somehow find a way to drag the reader up to speed – if not empathetic, at least sympathetic – right out of the gate.

 

I can’t figure out how to do that.

 

So, anyone have any tips for a new short story writer dipping a toe into the big pond?