Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Harder: Short Story or Novel?


As someone who's written many of both and had some success with shorts, I'd lean toward the novel. I've seen it written that shorts are harder because that adage about omitting needless words holds more true because you've got to build character, plot, interest in a shorter span. The path for a short might be more clearly defined (i.e., restrictive), but the decorations our left to our imagination (here's where I'm imagining Mel Gibson shouting "Freedom").

In a novel, though the path may be a bit more ambiguous or multi-forked (i.e., open for exploration), we've got to deal with a fairly grumpy HOA. That is, the publishing industry is fully tuned to producing the most perfect (in terms of saleability) novel. Rules, rules, rules (or at least stern recommendations). These can be helpful for finding a path (mundane?), but sometimes it can lead to the artistic gallows.

What do you think?

20 comments:

L. T. Host said...

I don't know-- I think short stories are harder for me because they are alien-- I've only written one. And pacing is tough even in a novel, so getting it right in such a short span of words is downright tricky.

But I'm up to the challenge, I just prefer novels, where I have the freedom to add as many words and scenes as I like. :)

Taryn Tyler said...

I have trouble finding a stopping point with short stories. I suddenly want to show more inside the antagonist's head and then I wonder what the daily life of character walking past protagonist along the road is like and then I wonder who build the road and see how that is connected with the protagonist's journey and then . . . well its not a short story anymore is it?

fairyhedgehog said...

There's so much to juggle in a novel and so many more ways for it to go wrong!

Flash fiction is easiest.

Bane of Anubis said...

LT - "...where I have the freedom to add as many words and scenes as I like." But do we? I mean, we can in drafts, but eventually we need to fine tune and grease that sucker closer toward those damn rules, right?

Taryn - yeah, I think if you allow or want the story to evolve from a local event to something global, writing shorts can be excruciatingly difficult.

fairy -- ha ha. I love those 25 word contests. Seriously, though, I think the juggling is one of the many reasons why I find novels more difficult (all those loose strings that need to come together).

L. T. Host said...

Well, maybe I should say I have the freedom to add as many words as I like. My first drafts run really short-- 50-60K words, usually. So when I have pacing issues or loose ends or "needs more subplot" comments, I have pretty much as much room as I want to fix those problems, more so because even with 20-40K word wiggle room, I still won't use it all even if I want to.

Most other writers that I know, though, have a harder time with long drafts and whittling things down. So maybe not everyone has that option, but I think I certainly do-- hence my preference. :)

Eric W. Trant said...

Novels are harder. Short stories are a snap. I lean toward imagery, though, so that is easy to fill in for a short story.

- Eric

Valerie Geary said...

Novel. Short stories. They're both beasts. There are difficult things about each. I like short stories because they can be finished and submitted in a shorter amount of time (not necessarily published though). And I like novels because you can dig so much deeper, do so much more. Plus ... more people read novels than short stories... so... that's where the money's at. ;)

Bane of Anubis said...

LT - yeah, I'm in that same short draft boat, usually, but then I start wondering if I add somewhere, am I adding to the right spot, does it make sense, or am I just adding b/c so and so said these types of books need to be 70k?

Eric Interesting -- imagery is something I use more in longer pieces, but for shorts, it's harder for me to incorporate (probably b/c it's one of my bigger weaknesses and I have a hard time succinctly/fluidly meshing it).

Valerie "that's where the money's at." -- truer words have never been spoken :)

Jenna Wallace said...

Novels are definitely harder for me because of all the "£$%^& revisions. But I do find short shorts hard because it is really a snapshot of life rather than exploration of it.

I find that serial short stories (multi-part stories that run to a total of 10,000-20,000 words) are the best part of both worlds. (I've posted on it here.) Nice chapter-sized chunks (about 4000 words) but not so many that you have tons of plot arcs to work on.

Ricardo Bare said...

Well, one is definitely more work. Otherwise, I think they use different but overlapping skillsets. I really enjoy writing short stories, at least partly because its quicker development cycle is rewarding. As I was working on my novel, I often paused to crank out a short story I just couldn't get out of my head.

What's even more fun is writing a short story that's a spin-off of the novel you're working on. I just did that this past week and posted about it today here.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

My heart isn't in shorts - just the novel. I'm barely getting warmed up at 50k. :)

BTW, that video ROCKED.

Matthew Delman said...

I think both have their hard parts and both have their easy parts. With short fiction, you're constrained by word count, this is true, but this has the added benefit of forcing you to focus in one what words are needed so much better than a novel can.

However, a novel can allow you to create a satisfying character arc where your main character grows and changes, whereas a short story doesn't allow for that.

For me at least, writing a short story is both easier and harder than writing a novel. If that makes sense.

Nate Wilson said...

I find novels to be the more difficult animal, mostly as a result of their length. As you add scenes, create more character interactions, or extend the time span of the narrative, more complexities arise. Thus, there's a greater chance you will screw something up.

With short stories, on the other hand, you're more likely to churn out that first draft before your interest wanes, or your writing style (or story) evolves to a point where the second half of your manuscript doesn't match the first. Not to say they're easy -- far from it -- but easier? You betcha.

Bane of Anubis said...

Jenna - Never considered serials, but I can see their appeal (tried hopping over via your link, but kept getting a Chrome oops message)

Ricardo - Definitely love the spin-off ability, and then the reverse effect it has on the original (I'm so thinking about dual mass gravitational fx here).

Dr. Quinn (who I am considering renaming MW -- yep, Medicine Woman -- sure you haven't heard that before) I'm lucky if I can get to 50k before I try to wrap things up :)

Matt That makes perfect sense to me, which might not be good for you ;)

Nate Though I didn't really go into depth about my difficulty w/ novels, I think you fairly well summed up my feelings (particularly the screwup potential).

Adam Heine said...

I'm with Ricardo on the shorter dev cycles. They're both hard, but I think it's a myth that you can approach novels more loosely than you can short stories. Both have to be tight, but making a short story tight takes up a lot less time.

Bane of Anubis said...

Adam Yep, shooting for that novel word count without throwing in meaningless filler or even "random" twists is what makes them more difficult for me.

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

For me the novel is hardest because of the sheer breadth it covers. And if you want to traditionally publish you have to get it just right. Short stories seem to be more flexible, although they are still difficult. The novella I've written was the most rewarding of all. Short, but long enough to explore character and plot deeply, but not long enough to wear me completely out.

Bane of Anubis said...

Michelle I think that might be the point I'm at now -- worn out. Guess maybe that's why middles sag in some stories... maybe not, but I don't like sagging (unfortunately I don't like botox either).

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

Bane: Yeah, don't delude yourself thinking a novel can be written quickly, especially a good one. I think most good novels take normal writers years to get right. Maybe I'm just super slow, who knows.

Bane of Anubis said...

MichelleI am in full agreement, but that's perhaps because I've become sloth slow (or at least feel that way :)