Saturday, July 5, 2008

Novel, novela, or short story: choosing the right format for your story.

Aside from the fact that this is my blog, and therefore inherently my opinion, I want to specifically state that this is my hunch and not based on study and research.

I do not believe that you always know what you are writing before it is mostly written. For example, you may start writing in poetic fervor one day because you have an idea, an inspiration. After four pages go by, you may find that the story is a self-contained, short story based on the scope of story that you have set up. Or forty pages later, you see that there is more to explore. A novella is forming. Or you reach a point in the story where you see components of your story that require new chapters, and the story still has a long way to go. A novel.

The point being it is an art, not a science. Granted, if you become a full time writer for pay, there will likely be exacting constraints on what you are expected to produce. But for now we are but lowly unpaid writers. That is code for freedom.

Although, as the title of the blog conveys, I am writing a novel, it started as an incomplete short story. Could I have finished it as a short story? Absolutely. But I saw the world within my pages reaching further and characters changing more. Please, just do not get upright about what it is you are producing. See where the story takes you.

If you planned to write a novel but find there are only thee or four chapters of story, for heavens sake resist the urge to stretch it out into a full novel. The goal is good storytelling, and the reader will not appreciate the mountains of fluff that you injected into the short story so you could claim to be a novelist.

One more thing, sometimes taking a break from your novel to write a short story may be the cure to a roadblock in your writing. Every piece of advice I have read is contrary on this point, but it is my believe that just as in a marathon, sometimes you need a water station. A short story might be the refreshment you need to press on.


Rick said...

I'm about 3 weeks into my first novel, most of that has been planning and, for some reason, I chose to write a short story before the novel. I thought this would help me understand the characters and location better, as well as warm me up generally. Unfortunately, what I think happened was that I found that writing a novel and writing a short story are two different things and not only because of the length or lack of exploration. I changed so much over the distance of 10,000 words that I couldn't understand the planning I laid out for the novel anymore. I couldn't understand why I had thought the way I did - just one week earlier. The problem that's staring me in the face now is how to write the novel without changing so fast that by the end of each chapter the plot becomes obsolete. It's like being handed a draft, not being too impressed with what it says, and then being asked to expand on it and being at a complete loss as to why the story ever needed to be written inthe first place. Am I making any sense? haha Anyway, since I don't have the luxury of the "freedom" unlimited time brings, I 'll have to push on regardless. I'm hoping something will show itself.

J Hugh Thomas said...

Rick, I empathize. As I stated in an early post on this blog, I wrote 240 pages before I realized I was so far off track, I needed to start over. And I agree, a short story and novel are very different. Short stories require much more precise writing than a novel, because backstory and character development are compacted. My only advice in your situation is to nail down the overview of the story. If you don't understand it or find it lacking, you probably have a story problem which is better solved in planning rather than writing, if time is an issue as you stated. Best of luck to you.

Rick said...

I best thing about this game is that nothing stays still for long. I've spent this morning going back to planning and "nailing down the overview" as you say. The short stories I write are like statements of fact. They're the knowns of this world, as I've experienced them. But what happened with the last one was that I was no longer convinced what I saw was all there could be. Something wasn't right. It could be handed to anyone (within my culture) and they'd think, yep, that's pretty much the way it is. But during the writing I had found something that suggested that the way the world is commonly said to be is not all there possibly could be. What's a good example? Hmmm. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, really puts a bend in the bars of the cage most writers work in. It was a question of the possibilities of reality.
So I'm planning a way to find those things I can't see in real life. It ties in somewhat with what you're saying about not knowing what you write before you write it. Until yesterday that view clashed with my perspective on writing. Until now I knew what I was going to write before I wrote it, maybe not finer details, but pretty much what I wanted to say. Otherwise, I reasoned, I'm just going to drift off into lala land. The result might be interesting, but more likely it'll just be comfortable to write and possibly not anywhere near true.
So now I have to find a new method that allows basic planning, but not so much that exploration is eliminated by preconception - for something I'm not certain exists. I'm a realist who has hit the limits of realism, post realism can't help, and the more common versions of modern relativism aren't an otpion. Sounds impossible. I'm sure it will all become clear.

Greetings from sunny, but cold Auckland, New Zealand.