Friday, 1 October 2010

Short Story Writer v Novelist. Discuss.

I've been thinking a lot lately about word count and the length of my writing.  Pretty much all my short stories seem to naturally fall between the six hundred to nine hundred mark.  I only a couple of times have I been able to break the one thousand word mark.  I'm sort of fine with that, though I've really come to admire those of you that can knock out a fifteen hundred plus story,  When writing my book, the chapters naturall fell between the fifteen hundred and two and a half thousand mark, so I know I can write chunks of stuff at that length.  But the short stories, they, well they just seem to come up short.

I was wondering if any of you fine people have a similar affliction.  Affliction is probably the wrong word, but you know what I mean.  Are you natural novelists that find the short story form a more difficult exercise than a ninety thousand word book?  Do you find the prospect of writing anything over ten thousand words an impossible demand?

I suppose, what I'm really asking, is are there fundamental differences between the short story writer and the novelist? 


  1. Difference between a short story writer and a novelist: the answer in one word--maybe.

    Chandler pasted together, by using bridges, a number of short stories to write several of his novels. I think 'Fairwell, My Lovely' is one of them. And it's his best.

    For years I found it difficult to write an effective short story. Brevity is the name of the game for a short story--and for years brevity was not in my bag of tricks. I think it comes with practice, with age (maybe both are needed).

    Of the two, I think I prefer the novel. More depth. More sensory entanglements. A deeper satisfaction.

  2. Hi B.R. I've always thought of myself as more of a novelist than a short story writer, it's just the short stories took off in away I never dreamed. I agree wholeheartedly with you, mate, about the greater depth and the wider ranging sensory entanglements that lead to a deeper satisfaction when writing a novel. And I'm fascinated to learn Chandler cobbled together 'Farewell, My Lovely' from a few shorts that happened to be laying around. Will keep that in mind when I read it. Might learn a thing or two.

    I'm planning on picking up where I left off with my second book shortly. I roughed out the fist three chapters a few months back, and I think I've improved as a writer since then, so it'll be interesting to see what I make of it.

    Feels a lifetime ago now.

  3. When I started writing I had the same problem. Seemed like everything I wrote would max out at about 1,500 words. I blamed it then on my journalism training. I had all the fluff banged out of me in school and on the day job once I graduated. Slowly, though, I got to where I could write longer. I still try to use as few words as possible, but now I write longer. I don't know if it just comes from writing and stretching my legs out a bit. I've gotten wordier. My shorts now are in the 2,500 to 5,000 word range. And I just finished a novella that after editing will be close to 30,000.

    In the end, though, I don't think of myself as a short story writer or a novelist. I'm just a writer and the story gets as many words as it needs to be told well.

  4. Great final comment, Jarrett.

    'I'm just a writer and the story gets as many words as it needs to be told well'

    Love that.

    I suppose what I need to be doing with my short stories is perhaps looking harder at squeezing more mileage out of them. Some of them suit a shorter format, definetly, but I reckon there are some that I've just skipped through, thinking brevity the best course. Will be a good exercise for me to go over my oldies and see what else I can make of them, perhaps.

    Cheers for the wise words, mate.

  5. One of the things that helped me was submitting to a few places and hearing the same thing about different stories. The editors said that they didn't feel like the story ended where I'd ended it. They thought there was more there. And they were right. I think I'd done like you and opted for brevity instead of letting the story tell itself completely.

  6. It's funny, when I wrote the book, I had no trouble knocking out chapters of 2000-2500 words. But the short stories, they really get me. I, like you, Jarrett, write pretty sparse, no adjectives, no fluff, etc. Perhaps it's just a case of slowing down a bit, taking my time. Got my first rejection this week hinting that the story I submitted might be part of something longer.

    First time I've had that piece of advice, and it's really made me sit up and take notice. I love those sorts of rejections. The ones that make you take a long hard look at what you're doing. Gold dust, they are.

  7. I don't know guys. One of the tiredest excuses for a crit you get in bad workshops is "I want to know more about this guy (or gal or place)". I think it's a comment that encourages stagnation. Personally I think a lot of it comes from the absolute craze going on today in novels. One stand alone novel that knocks people's socks off doesn't seem to make it. Readers started off wanting a second book. The basic standard now seems to be "A trilogy or more." I mean, sure I understand people liking a certain character and wanting more. That's called a series and can go on and on like John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee or any of the other PIs. I also know that JDM got flat sick of writing McGee books but couldn't kill him off. Bucks in the pocket you know. I'm also aware that publishers just love never ending series -- that played out the vein they were mining long before they concluded -- because, well, again, dollars. Wow, that's the long way around to agreeing with you guys that a story takes as long as it takes and word count doesn't matter.
    (I still think one the absolutely necessary skills in a good writer is the ability to edit your own stuff mercilessly though.)