Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

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Chris533
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Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby Chris533 » Tue Oct 17, 2017 8:16 pm

So - I've never had anything published and consider myself a relative newbie to this whole writing life. I'm working on a short story for Q2 - it's a pretty awesome concept - not even sure yet if I have the chops to pull it off - but I'm trying - and it's starting to seem like maybe there's actually a novel there. Not sure yet if there's enough there - but it just keeps growing - so maybe.

I feel like I'm advanced enough to write short stories - I have two I like under my belt - but when I've tried writing a novel before I just got kind of bogged down with all that I needed to learn - and so decided to focus on shorts to get my talent up. So - I'm not even sure if I'm where I need to be to be able to write a novel.

Well - if you found yourself in this situation - would you focus on the short term - getting short stories into the contest and/or published elsewhere - or go for the novel? Me: wotf017
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby morganb » Wed Oct 18, 2017 4:42 am

Hi Chris,

I was this EXACT SAME WAY when I first started out! I had this really fantastic idea for a novel and jumped right in with both feet. I had no idea what I was doing, just kept plodding along anyway. After about eight months though, I was totally burned out; it was like hitting a concrete barrier. And it occurred to me I was probably going to spend one to two years writing this "masterpiece", then (even more likely) someone was just going to reject it. Okay, probably not just someone, but probably more like everyone. So the question I had to ask myself was, "Should I spend two years of my life writing one crummy novel, or should I invest those two years in writing dozens of crummy short stories instead?"

Personally, I went the short story route for a couple of reasons. First, rather than writing just one story in two years, I'd be writing LOTS of stories -- stuff I could start and finish in a matter of weeks. That gave me a real sense of accomplishment because I didn't feel like I was beating my head against a wall all the time. Also, with each new story I wrote (along with the associated critique notes) I learned something new I could use to improve the next story. So every new story seemed to get better (at least to me) and taught me something new.

That was five years ago and I've never regretted that decision (although that novel manuscript still calls to me from time to time and someday I might circle back to it). I'm still not published, but I know I'm getting close because personal rejections are rolling in more frequently now.

I realize everyone's journey is a little different and this is just what made sense to me. Hope you find it helpful. Whatever you decide to do, keep writing and get involved with a critique group if you're not already. Lots of members here (including me) are involved with Critters online.

~Morgan
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby RSchibler » Wed Oct 18, 2017 5:14 am

I had this idea for a novel, so I started writing in January. I wrote 40k words or something like that and then realized I had no idea what I was doing. The more I read blogs and articles on writing, the more I ran into concepts that I didn't really understand. Character arc? Setting? Rising action? Different kinds of conflict?

In that research process, I discovered this contest. $1000 says you? Alrighty, says I. So I took a break from the novel in March and wrote a short story. In the process I learned a TON about writing. Character, Plot, Setting, Finishing, etc. Then I had to edit the darn thing, which was an entirely different process than writing but just as educational. I submitted it with grand ideas of many accolades wotf001 and turned back to the novel. Lo and Behold, writing the novel felt more solid now. So when the deadline for Q3 started to loom, I took another break from the novel and wrote another short story. Same with editing and my Q4. I'm currently querying agents for the novel, working on my Q1 story, plotting my next novel, and brainstorming for my Q2. All in all, I've written 5 short stories (two of which will never again see the light of day) and three that I think have some real potential.

My point is, writing short stories informs the novel writing process (at least for me) in a big way. It is NOT the same skill, as with shorts you have to condense and refine a great deal whereas with novels I think you're given more space to expound and readers expect more detail. But they are related skills and, at least for me, doing one significantly improved my ability to do the other- especially with the editing process, which with a novel can feel overwhelming.

If the story demands that it is novel length, trust your story. I guess I don't think the two need be mutually exclusive- you can write a novel AND write short stories, and you'll be better at both for the diversity.
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby jficke13 » Wed Oct 18, 2017 7:52 am

Writing short stories is nice because you can exercise the "finishing stuff" muscle. Learning to finish pieces is a valuable skill all of its own (moving from idea, to outline (or not), to draft, to finished draft, to polished draft, to submittable piece).

If you want to write novels though, there are novel-writing muscles that you won't exercise writing short stories. Maybe it's holding a large-scale structure, maybe it's layering in depth/side-quests/side-characters, maybe it's continuity over 50,000-90,000+ words, there's different challenges to the novel form.

So, the question becomes: What do you want to do?

Writing short stories lets me work on focused narrative, beautiful (not purple) prose, making everything in my story do more than one thing, and finishing/revising/submitting. But for a while I got so focused on short fiction that I lost the thread of working on longer pieces. I'm currently trying to re-balance back toward novel writing, and hopefully NaNo will help with that.

Anyway sorry for the long-winded response.
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby KD Julicher » Wed Oct 18, 2017 8:42 am

Why not try doing NaNoWriMo in November? If by some chance you haven't heard of it, check out NaNoWriMo.org, but it's essentially a challenge to "write a book in November". Granted they define "book" as "50,000 words" which is fairly short for a novel, but it's a ton of fun and can really challenge you.

My advice is to write the story. The first book you write is going to teach you so much about writing a novel. All the advice in the world will be less impactful than that. Write the book, and then come back and read advice. You'll have the context to understand it. Then you can either edit the book you wrote, or write another better one.
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby Chris533 » Wed Oct 18, 2017 9:50 am

Thanks! Lots of good advice there - I'm still not decided - but leaning toward going with the short story and if it just absolutely demands to be a novel I'll listen to it and give it a try. Thanks!
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby Dustin Adams » Thu Oct 19, 2017 2:19 am

Write for joy.

My joy, personally, is writing for the contest, despite being a novelist at heart. I love that process, but it's lonely, and having worked from home for the last seven years, I need all the socializing I can get. Ahem.

Anyway, my point is that you have to do what you love. If your story is organically growing into a novel - WRITE IT. Don't stop and say it's somehow wrong, or maybe you shouldn't do it because you don't have novel experience - that is how you GET novel experience. More characters, more arcs, more problems to resolve, more bad guys. If you miss a quarter here, don't worry, there's another one coming up. Just write like crazy. Your goal is a million words, not x # of stories on submission (Remember, this is my opinion here). You can micromanage your 5k stories and shop them around and rack up rejection letters like badges of honor (which they totally are), or you can enjoy the sound of your fingers flying across the keys.

Now, I'd like to say neither of those is "right" or "wrong". If you dig polishing something up and submitting it while writing the next thing - GO FOR IT. Personally, it's not my thang, but I recommend writing like crazy and for joy as long as possible before you worry/stress too much about the submission process, or the query letter, etc. (WotF being the exception of course because have you seen the prizes!?).

I'm leaning toward NaNo this year for this very reason. I've been micromanaging my words for a long time and I need to get that feeling back of just waking up, getting my coffee, and hanging out with my characters where nothing else matters but "What happens next?" .
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby zeeteebeez » Thu Oct 19, 2017 4:57 am

I think it's important to understand that short stories are not inherently easier to write than novels. In fact, the opposite could be true.

Novels of course take more time, more brute force, more perseverance. But not more skill. Each length of story telling has its own intricacies.

My advice is to write what you want to write. Do you see yourself as a short story writer? Selling to the likes of F&SF, lightspeed, Clarkesworld, etc. on a regular basis? Or do you envision your future as a novelist, either traditionally published or self published?

Whatever your answer, writing in that format is going to bring you closer to your goal. What you will realize over time is that you're going to need to churn out a lot of practice words before you're writing at a professional level (and by this I don't mean you specifically, but the general new writer).

Having said that, short stories do allow a budding novelist to get the hang of taking a story from beginning to end. They allow you to experiment with different ideas, characters, plots, genres, and settings. Spending a month with something new can teach you a lot about your writing, and a novel will take you a lot longer to complete. Which can be rather restricting for someone who might feel they need to try a lot of different things in order to get better.
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby AliciaCay » Thu Oct 19, 2017 4:33 pm

Chris533 wrote:So - I've never had anything published and consider myself a relative newbie to this whole writing life. I'm working on a short story for Q2 - it's a pretty awesome concept - not even sure yet if I have the chops to pull it off - but I'm trying - and it's starting to seem like maybe there's actually a novel there. Not sure yet if there's enough there - but it just keeps growing - so maybe.

I feel like I'm advanced enough to write short stories - I have two I like under my belt - but when I've tried writing a novel before I just got kind of bogged down with all that I needed to learn - and so decided to focus on shorts to get my talent up. So - I'm not even sure if I'm where I need to be to be able to write a novel.

Well - if you found yourself in this situation - would you focus on the short term - getting short stories into the contest and/or published elsewhere - or go for the novel? Me: wotf017


Hi Chris,

I was in this same exact situation myself. I want to be a novelist, but the idea of sitting with a single project for who knows how long when I still needed to actually 'learn' the craft of writing, felt overwhelming. So I began writing and learning with short stories.
Soon after I did I found this parable about the pottery class, and felt it validated my decision in some way. But this is just my opinion, and there are many different ways to the same end.

Here is the parable, in case it helps.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the "quantity" group: fifty pound of pots rated an "A", forty pounds a "B", and so on.
Those being graded on "quality", however, needed to produce only one pot - albeit a perfect one - to get an "A".

Well, come grading time a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the "quantity" group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the "quality" group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.


The idea behind all of this, for me, was: 1) Write lots of stories - AND - 2) Learn from my mistakes, then write the next one better.

I will still have much to learn about novel writing when the time comes. (I think zeeteebees is correct, in some ways short stories can present more of a challenge perhaps than novel writing. I know for me, short stories are not the easy thing I first imagined them to be.) But I also know from writing short stories for a few years now, I've learned more about my style as a writer, more about how I write, what works for me, what things I like reading in other stories, what some of my weaknesses and some of my strengths are, etc. Which I believe are skills that will carry over when I begin my first novel.
Also, I've gotten at least two ideas for novels - from my short stories. There are characters that have stayed with me after I've finished their story, and they have much more to say.

Anyway, sorry to ramble on. Hope this helped, at least a little wotf011

~A
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby preston » Thu Oct 19, 2017 5:11 pm

Nice parable!

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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby pcmccollum » Fri Oct 20, 2017 7:39 am

As someone who has a pile of going-nowhere-novels sitting on various hard drives and dusty, printed manuscripts, I support Larry Niven's and Rad Bradbury's advice (among others) that writing short stories allows one to fail faster, and therefore provide the opportunity to improve faster. This year, I finally took on an experiment of writing 52 short stories in 52 weeks. I'm on story number 10 and I'll just say that this has been fantastic for the reason mentioned above, but also because:

  • Experimentation - I can work with so many different POVs, voices, situations, characters, settings, that I never get bored.
  • Finishing - Finishing something is so important for a writer. The feeling of getting to the end is unlike any other.
  • Habit-Building - By being forced to complete one short story pretty much every week, I can't slack off. I write nearly every day and it's become second nature. I feel miserable if I can't write.

Anyway, there are many more benefits, but those are a few thoughts from someone who has struggled with trying to write novels for the past five years, finally seeming to have figured out what works for me. wotf011

Best of luck to you in your journey!

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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby LDWriter2 » Sun Oct 22, 2017 7:39 pm

I do both, at the same time. Of course some have less time than I do, and some would rather just do one or the other, but I have enough time each quarter to work on both. Sometimes the stories get put down for a while to finish the novel and also the other way around.
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby storysinger » Wed Oct 25, 2017 4:46 am

KD Julicher wrote:Why not try doing NaNoWriMo in November?


I started doing that 3 years ago and look forward to writing my fourth novel this year.

Dustin Adams wrote:Write for joy.


On the first day of November I will sit at my laptop and begin a story. I thought about creating an outline to follow but I really like experiencing the journey.

Good luck to everyone who plans to participate.
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Re: Go for the novel? Or stick with the short story?

Postby tparchie » Mon Jan 01, 2018 8:16 am

Initially I wrote my first draft in 3½ months. It was 60k words. Eventually I expanded it by rewriting and restructuring. As it stands it's a collection of peripheral stories that centre on a main character whose line of work takes him through the reason behind the collapse of civilisation. It could be deconstructed into its constituent story lines. The point is: what do you want to say? If you just want to narrate, trial until you hit the right length. If you have a vision, consider using different angles of approach so the beast you are describing gets several perspectives - this being the point of the Elephant in the Room. There are plenty of techniques at your disposal, get them played with!
Testing writing preferences - my experience. I've done four novels, three novellas, the first 20k words of another 4 works, 50+ short stories; and I've ventures out of genre (SF / Fantasy) to poke around in Noir, Americana and Historical Fiction. In addition I've done a book of essays on my home town (Burnley, Lancs), a poetry collection plus I've prepared anthologies for various writing groups. There isn't an ideal writing length - my longest is 165k words and my most common is sub-1,000 words. I'm currently planning novelette sized takes on the future of humanity in space.
The important thing is to write. Once you're underway, you're a ship set sail for distant lands; pace yourself to tell the tale. Don't skimp, get it told and if you get to first draft, then consider length etc.
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