Should I Write a Short Story or a Novel?

This question has vexed me since I’ve started writing. The first novel-length work I ever wrote was effectively a lengthened short story by throwing contrived plot twists into the story.

It was terrible.

However, the question is a valid one: What should the length of my story be?

To be honest, there’s more options than just short story or novel. You could write a novella (and I am currently working on one) or any other length of work. So I brainstormed and came up with a few pointers for people, like me, who struggle to decide which way to go with their fiction:

  • The length of the work should depend on the work itself and your own style.

I spent some time working on a short story. I really liked where it was going. A deep lore, interesting fantasy elements, and even a geography. I think you can see the problem already. This work was not meant to be a short story. It was meant to be a longer format.

If your story involves a deeply entrenched history and other worldbuilding elements, you may want to go with a longer format. Short stories are designed to tell a tale quickly and effectively. It’s hard to get as detailed as you’d like with a short story, but not impossible.

  • A longer format allows for mistakes.

Novels can be messy. By that I mean they should be well-written, plotted, and designed to have a story with characters. But, you can make “mistakes” that you can’t make with short stories.

Due to the word constraints in a short story, there’s less space to experiment with different scenes, or beats, in a story. You have to setup and pay off within the same 3000 words, for example. In a novel, you can set things up that suggest something, then have a reversal of those expectations later in the story. However, it may be 30,000 words between setup and pay off. You have the room to experiment with it.

If your style is more attuned to adding new plot threads, suggestions of further depth, or hidden secrets, then a longer length may be preferable.

If the story contains those elements in your outlining, then you may want to think about going for the longer length, as well.

  • Short fiction has the benefit of brevity.

If “brevity is the soul of wit”, then I’d argue that a short story helps writers become witty with their choices.

Short fiction helps a writer develop plotting and endings far better than any novel. However, once a writer has developed as a short story writer, most will make the move to novels. The character development, dialogue, and worldbuilding that you can do in a novel is just plain fun. Conventional wisdom has always held that a writer should work on short stories first, then work on novels. I’m not sure I’d go as far as saying that’s required in all cases, but I see the benefits.

All in all, think about it. You and your story may benefit from a different format.


You might like some of my book reviews:

Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

You may also like my other work on writing:

Finding Your Writing Style

Dodging Derivatives

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

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Harlan Ellison on Not Being a Science Fiction Writer

I love listening to the old authors of speculative fiction. In this way I came upon a 1976 interview of Harlan Ellison describing why he is not a science fiction writer. He thinks his work doesn’t actually fit that label, and I think he’s probably right.

Sure, many of his fiction works fall into science, but others have fantasy elements or are simply real world fiction. It isn’t so simple as saying “this guy was a sci-fi writer.”

There’s much to learn from Ellison’s philosophy of writing, and I think his idea of genre is especially useful. However, if you’re a new author looking to get published, having a clearly defined genre may be more useful. It’s debatable.

Here’s the interview, at the appropriate part. I’d recommend the entire interview if you have the time!


You may like some of my other posts about writing:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Revising Your First Draft Novel

Also check out my book reviews:

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Also make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Writing Descriptions

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I was talking to an author friend of mine about his book. Honestly, it was a great read and I was impressed by one element in particular: his descriptions.

He was great at it! Not too many, but not too few. It felt like he let the reader’s imagination control the imagery, but gave enough to ground the story to a specific image. It worked well.

That being said, I noticed my own failings quickly. I’m awful at over-description!

The Curse of Over-description

The symptoms are straining for any author trying to craft amazing fiction. You get bogged down describing in detail every facet of a world you’re trying to build. It’s especially easy for speculative fiction or memoirs, because you really want to paint a picture in those genres.

There’s a good way to fix it, though. You simply have to figure out what a reader needs. It helps to have friends to read your work in the early stages, or alpha readers when you get to the point of allowing strangers to take a look at your manuscript.

My friend ended up explaining that he didn’t actually have the same issue I did, but that he did have his own issue. You see, there’s an equally dangerous possibility with writing: under-description.

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A Barebones Manuscript

The Curse of Under-description

The symptoms are easy to fall into once you start to “trim the fat” in your writing. There’s too many ways to end up with a barebones manuscript.

You need to make sure to figure out what’s important to properly convey. Is it really important that the reader knows that the spaceship you’re discussing had five PD-40 Ion Engines with small carvings of elephant tusks and inscriptions in runes around the edges? Or is it better to say there’s five ornate ion engines?

Well, it depends. You can do “info dumps” as Ben Bova called them, but don’t do them constantly. You need a gentle touch!

Once again, those early readers are important. Get a friend to read through it, someone who’s going to be honest with you.

Hopefully this helps you! It comes from a personal place to me.


 

Maybe you’ll like some of my other posts on writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Writing with Inspiration

Or maybe a couple of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

75% Writing, 25% Coping

chalkboard-1927332_960_720Rejection isn’t something a writer should fear. We all get hit by it, one rejection at a time. I’ve lost count of the amount of rejections I’ve had since I got serious about writing. It’s what happens.

I think to myself: am I really improving? What am I doing wrong?

It’s worrying to think I’m missing something, I’m failing to meet someone’s approval.

In truth, I feel like I’ve improved. I look back at my early work and scoff. There’s no way  anyone could reasonably look over my work and think it was written by a skilled storyteller.

But it also feels like I’m at the edge. Like all I need is a little more improvement and I’ll be there. I have the ideas, the realization of what it is I like about these stories, but all I need is a little something more. I need a spark, a small light to kindle the flame of my writing. There’s something missing, but I don’t know what.

But it’s more than that. I sometimes really worried my dream of being published won’t come true.

Even now more lessons strike my heart. I think to myself about how I write and realize I need to write as I think. An easy thing to say, but a personal realization to me nonetheless.

But I have to cope. The writing game is 75% writing, 25% coping.

Writing with Inspiration

creativity_idea_inspiration_innovation_pencil_paper_plan_business-714869I often struggle to find a push to write when I’m feeling ill or tired. Since I have a full time job and a family, I’m often tired and just want to relax. However, I think once motivation is conquered, the next hurdle is inspiration.

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration can come from anything. Other stories, people you’ve met, ideas you have in the shower, friends and family, and just generally living your life. That last part is important. How can you write about people and events if you don’t live your life?

Being an introvert, I get it. I get tired talking to people and meeting large groups, but I do it to interact and learn about human interaction. Your character dialogue might improve if you learn how other people talk. Who knows, you might even get inspired by a stranger to create a brand new character!

If you find yourself being boxed in, without an idea to move forward with, try stepping out and seeing the world and the people in it. Maybe that will help you as it has me.

Ultimately, inspiration is a result of what you put into it. Go out and experience things, and write about similar things.


You might like some of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Book Review: The “Troy Rising” Trilogy by John Ringo

You might also like some more of my writing posts:

Turning a Hobby into a Career

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Turning a Hobby into a Career

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I’ve wrestled with my decisions, wondering whether I should have a full time career for income and security. Right now, it’s a no-brainer. I need a job in order to pay the bills. But what about writing?

Is it just a hobby?

Well, it is. I love doing it. I love weaving ideas into characters and plot points, building worlds from my mind, and structuring out a story that I would find interesting. I love everything about writing, even the garbage parts like editing spelling mistakes.

But does it have to stay a hobby?

I suppose it’s a pipedream to actually make a living doing it, but I can certainly try. I love reading science fiction, so why shouldn’t I try to turn what I love into what I love doing?

Do you have any thoughts? Is it a waste of time?

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

BookEditingThere is no scientific consensus on when to stop revising a first draft and how to move into a second. Stephen King mentions it in his “On Writing” (and I find I’m the same), that he’s the kind of writer who always wants to add things into his stories.

That’s probably a good place to stop your first draft and go into your second.

Here are the ideas I had for moving from a first draft to a second:

1. You’re done adding elements to your story.

The first draft is where you add things, where you add your foreshadowing, your themes between chapters, your exposition, etc. Hit your points and once you’re done, that’s it. There’s a time to stop and a time to move on. In this case, hit what you need to and move on.

2. Read it for consistency.

The truth is, a first draft is never good enough. Oh, if you’re Hemingway or something you can try to get away with it, but chances are you need to make revisions.

And every writer needs to read what he or she has written.

3. Make sure it flows.

I would make this your last chance to add anything. A good bit of advice I got early on was to add or move elements so that the story hits something important every three chapters.

4. Begin removing the unnecessary.

Clunky dialogue, exposition that feels forced, and any number of added elements can be removed to make it flow. There’s some great books on how to do this, but just know it’s important to stop adding things and start taking them away.

A good rule of thumb is to remove about 10% of the word count. For long science fiction stories (my forte) you can go from 120,000 words to 108,000-ish.

Also remember, with this, to show don’t tell. That means a ton of what you have in narrative form shouldn’t be telling your reader what to think, but leading them to think it.


 

You may like some of my other posts about writing:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Revising Your First Draft Novel

Also check out my book reviews:

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Also make sure to follow my on Twitter and Instagram!

Revising Your First Draft Novel

typewriter_keys_letters_numbers_type_old_vintage_antique-1167460Writing a novel is an exhausting, time-consuming process. But finishing the first draft gives you an excellent feeling! Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing. I love having written.”

I already did one post about when to completely rewrite your novel, but what do you do if you finish it and want to revise it?

Here’s 5 tips for revising:

  • 1. Read It

Captain Obvious, to the rescue! It’s useful to also keep a pad nearby and jot down any themes or images you want to reference later in the story. It’s a nice idea to have some idea of symbolism or foreshadowing as you go through.

  • 2. Correct Grammar/Spelling

Really, basic correction from the first edit. These sorts of things should be fixed right away to avoid wasting time in the future.

  • 3. Add a Blank Page Between Chapters

I owe this idea to James Duncan from Writer’s Digest. An excellent idea that really helped me! I highly recommend it, as it’ll help you go through your manuscript easily.

  • 4. Write Down any Plot Elements You Need to Address

Sometimes you have things you want to address that are missing. This is easily fixed! Figure out where you wanted to go, and jot it down as well.

  • 5. Create a Checklist for Updates

Now that you have both the symbolism and plot elements you need to address, get down and dirty and create a check list for this. It’s useful, because it helps you figure out what’s missing in the story.

From there, you have rewriting and creating your second draft.

Have a good time writing!


Check out my other posts:

Finding Your Writing Style

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Going from Outline to Manuscript

And maybe you’d like to read one of my book reviews:

Book Review: 1632 by Eric Flint

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Finding Your Writing Style

StateLibQld_2_171951_Intimate_portrait_of_a_man_writing_a_letter,_1900-1910When we talk about “style” in regards to writing, it’s often understood to stand related to “voice”, “tone” or even “structure”. In reality, it’s a nebulous idea, springing forth from readers and writers alike with no concrete definition.

You know what it is to have a specific style, but it’s hard to nail down.

Here are some bits of advice I came up with to help you find your own unique style:

1. Read Authors You Like

This seems simple enough, but a word of caution: if you try to mimic another author’s style it could end up disastrous. It’s good to learn from the authors you love, but if you create a voice that’s an amalgamation of their word-choice and tone it could come off as forced. That leads to the next idea…

2. Sound Natural

Don’t try to sound overly intellectual, or overly relaxed. If you are an intellectual, embrace it as who you are. This idea is important, but it’s said so often as to be meaningless: fake it until you make it.

It’s reasonable to sounds as you are, and if you think you sound awful, continue trying. As long as you’re true to yourself, how you write doesn’t matter. Eventually, creme rises to the top.

3. Work on Word Choice

If you lack a wide range of words to choose from, then you lack the tools to construct a story that is truly your own. You must, must, must, must, MUST, work on vocabulary! It’s pertinent for all starting authors to get that under their belt, or they will find a lot of creativity with no ability to construct a sentence.

If you have a lot of words to choose from, then you’ll have the ability to choose how you want to sound. That’s how it works!

4. Write

How can you find your writing style if you don’t write? Continually improving yourself is the only way to improve your writing. That includes vocabulary, as I mentioned, and actually writing.


I hope that helps! You may enjoy some of my other writing posts:

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Dodging Derivatives

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

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My background was originally in philosophy. Science fiction, while my preferred fiction choice, wasn’t what I wanted to do in college. I pushed myself to study philosophy because I found the ideas interesting. Yet, the career prospects were null and the hobbyist possibilities the same.

In thinking about philosophy in science fiction I think about the short story from the July 2017 issue of Apex magazine: The Turing Machines of Babel by Eric Schwitzgebel.

One day I may review the short story, but I mentioned the story on my twitter account. In the mean time, let’s talk about philosophy in science fiction. There are a few possible ways to incorporate a philosophical question:

  • 1. Directly asking the question.

You could, simply, have a character wake up one day and ask, “is there a god?”

It’s been done to death and often feels forced, but it’s a possibility.

  • 2. Indirectly answering the question.

Instead of making your main character or side characters ask the question, have them deal with an outsider who wonders about why they do a certain thing, which is tangentially related. So, instead of asking “is there a god?” you could have an observer watch the characters perform their actions and ask “do they do this for their gods?” Make it assumptive, and instead of answering the question of “is there a god?” we deal with the moral argument for god’s existence, for example.

  • 3. Showing a world where the question isn’t asked.

If you want to explore the question “how do you know what you know?” Then show a world where it’s all just assumed and no one questions themselves. In this way, you create a reality in the mind of the reader that you can explore and confront. How do these characters know what they know? Is that right?

  • 4. Showing a world that explains the question and your answer.

This is how The Turing Machines of Babel did it, in my opinion. The universe was explored in the story, with its explanations and questions all laid out in how the universe was constructed. Coming to that universe was the main character, and everything was explained through his research and understanding.


 

Well that’s a few examples and suggestions. I hope it helps!

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and check out some of my other blog posts:

Going from Outline to Manuscript

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman