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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What is Science Fiction?

9262561366_05ea466cff_bMy family and I discussed some of the more recent Frankenstein movies, and the conversation drifted into the original novel by Mary Shelley. Inevitably, that brought out discussion of the original novel being the first science fiction novel. Apparently, this was a position Brian Aldiss held as well.

Now, I believe that science fiction, as a form of literature, is not so easily defined. As such, a distinct division between what was and was not science fiction is nearly impossible. However, I believe that there are various requirements that a story should meet to be considered science fiction:

1. It must have been written during or after the Enlightenment.

I would argue that science fiction didn’t exist until the Enlightenment. I would say that prior to this, any sort of fantastical or imaginative speculative fiction wouldn’t have had any concern for scientific ideas.

Now, the timing is intentional. Books like Gulliver’s Travels and Icosameron fit this element.

2. It must have been concerned with a scientific idea.

Even if that idea is as simple as “could we go to another planet?” or “what will life look like in 1,000 years?” Works that explore the possibilities of a hollow earth or people who live on the moon also fit this requirement, and if they were after the Enlightenment, fit the first as well.

I would also include some “soft” scientific ideas in here, such as psychology or politics. Thus, utopias or dystopias can be explored in detail in science fiction. I would exclude current politics or military science from this, if they were by themselves as scientific ideas.

3. It must have been concerned with speculation.

This means that a direct, realistic explanation of an even does not fit. Likewise, general fiction that doesn’t speculate anything isn’t a science fiction novel.

Now here’s the issue: space opera and military science fiction can speculate on the use of space faring technology or fighting aliens, but they don’t expound on those ideas. Nor do they need to!

I think these three elements must be included. Rod Serling once said, “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible”.

So was Frankenstein the first sci-fi novel? No, I don’t think so, though it may have been the first “hard” science fiction novel, but that’s a different story. Perhaps this is overthinking it, or maybe I’m missing some element that would define certain stories and not others.

What do you think?


You may like some of my other work on this site. Make sure to check me out on Twitter and Instagram.

Maybe some of my reviews:

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

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

Maybe some of my work on writing:

Writing Descriptions

Finding Your Writing Style

Maybe my poetry:

Poetry: “Cardinals in Spring Snow”

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

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Fantastic_novels_194803This is a story I’ve wanted to read for along time. It’s early speculative fiction, and often categorized as either sci-fi or fantasy, but after reading it I can say it’s definitely a fantasy story. The story is more of an adventure tale than anything, which makes sense given the state of publishing back then.

The story follows Kenton, who is whisked away to a bizarre ship that’s divided into two halves. It travels an unknown sea, and is said to belong to the goddess Ishtar. Aboard the ship, Kenton has a unique sword and is mistaken at first for a messenger of the gods.  After it’s revealed that he isn’t who they thought, he’s already met the two other main characters: Sharane, priestess of Ishtar, and Klaneth, a priest of Nergel.

Kenton, upon seeing Sharane in all her beauty, falls for her instantly. The story is then a love story between Kenton and Sharane, with Klaneth serving as the main antagonist. Kenton goes through several adventures and meets people who become his friends along the way.

Ultimately, I think it was a solid book. It’s a great example of the kind of adventure fiction that was popular in the mid-twenties. While it’s certainly a product of its time, I think it’s well worth a read for anyone interested in the history of speculative fiction.

[Spoiler] A major failing for the story is the ending. I really don’t think it ended well. It felt like it ended with no real resolution.


If you liked this, you might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Or maybe one of my posts about writing:

75% Writing, 25% Coping

Turning a Hobby into a Career

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

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

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Shadow_of_the_torturerThis is the first book in “the Book of the New Sun” series, and honestly one of the best books I have ever read. I said this about The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance, and it stands true still.

This book follows Severian, who starts out as an apprentice torturer. The guild he’s in is respected for their craft and though they have a dark job to do, they don’t hire the bloodthirsty or sadistic. Instead, they pick children at a young age and teach them about it and seemingly participate as a part of the justice system. It becomes somewhat clear that torturers exist as both a means of punishment from the judicial branch and an executioner.

Severian commits a crime among his guild, having fallen for a woman they kept imprisoned in their halls, and is sent on assignment to another city. They would have liked to kill him, but his masters seemingly had pity on him for the situation and wanted to spare him his death.

Ultimately, it follows his travel to another city, his challenge to a duel, and his subsequent ritual in order to meet the requirements of the duel. Though the ending is a bit lacking (it was obviously set up for a sequel) there are hints of future events from the narrative of Severian himself. You know he survives the duel, you know something will happen to raise his status in society, but you don’t know what.

The world is fascinating, full, and vibrant, with rich characters and an interesting setting. Wolfe really shines here with the fleshed-out guild of torturers and the unique social structure the society seems to employ.

Ultimately, I consider this among the best fantasy works I’ve ever read, though it seems to mention some science fiction elements.

If you’re a fan of those genres, give it a chance and see if it works for you. I, meanwhile, will begin to read the next book.


You might like some of these other reviews:

Book Review: The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

You may also like my work on writing:

Finding Your Writing Style

Dodging Derivatives

Book Review: The Universe Maker by A. E. van Vogt

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I have been thoroughly impressed by A. E. van Vogt. I previously reviewed his books Voyage of the Space Beagle and Slan. He’s a good author, if not a little dated.

The Universe Maker, however, is such an odd tale it’s impossible to properly give it credit in a short review.

Morton Cargill, a heroic soldier from the 20th century, is accused of drunk driving and killing a woman. He doesn’t remember it, but all the evidence suggests it was his fault. As a result, he flees the scene and tries to escape.

The story involves a fight on the future earth 400 years later. It’s between floating airships of middle Americans and a city of Shadows, humanoid shaped creatures of mysterious origins and powers.

Two notes on Cargill’s character:

  1. Cargill never feels like a sympathetic character. Maybe it’s my modern reading, but a drunk driver is not a good person in any context. As such, he’s immediately disliked.
  2. Cargill does things for the end result, seducing two girls in an effort to take control from them. He’s again unsympathetic due to this, but he does feel unique and real.

He’s well-written, and as such holds a whole story on his own.

Downsides of this book are that, yes, it feels a little dated, and it also feels a little repetitive.

However, if you can hold on until the end, that ending is superb.


You might like some of these other posts:

Book Review: 1632 by Eric Flint

Dodging Derivatives

Book Review: The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson

TheEnemyStarsI had heard of Poul Anderson in my readings of science fiction, but I think this was my first venture into his work. I should say I was not disappointed.

The Enemy Stars follows several characters, specifically those aboard the Southern Cross, a vessel for travelling the universe. Apparently the technology used is called a “mattercaster”, which I understood to be a teleporter of some kind.

I can’t speak of this book without getting into spoilers. Let me say, it’s a short read and worth your time if hard science fiction from the late 50’s is your thing. I liked it well enough, but I wouldn’t say I’d recommend it to everyone who likes sci-fi in general.

The book follows characters. As such, the main characters on the ship are interesting people, but I felt that the two main men, Ryerson and Maclaren, were far too similar. I had trouble remembering which one was which. Also their portrayal of Nakamura had him practice Zen and use simple Japanese words, which struck me as a little one-dimensional. The other characters also suffered from this plight, save Magnus, who was interesting in the end.

Like a playwright, Anderson is able to use various characters in a simple setting to make interesting observations and musings on a variety of subjects. The ideas are solid science fiction, with a black star being the central focus of the expedition.

It’s a good book, but not for everyone.


You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

You might also like my work on books or writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Finding Your Writing Style

The First SciFi Book I Read

Make sure to subscribe to my WordPress, check out my Twitter account, and follow me on Instagram!

Book Review: Willful Child by Steven Erikson

20518786Steven Erikson is well known for his series “Malazan Book of the Fallen”, a dark fantasy series. When I heard he had written a Star Trek parody called Willful Child, I was intrigued.

There are a few points that I should tackle up front. First, I understand there have been comparisons made between Willful Child and Redshirts by John Scalzi. To be fair, I’ve never read Mr. Scalzi’s Redshirts, so I can’t speak to any comparisons. Second, the book is considered by many to be lacking in the quality department. I don’t believe this is accurate, as I’ll explain later, but there is an element of humor related to the original series of Star Trek that many people may not catch.

With that out of the way, let me say this: I loved this book. I wouldn’t say it’s a masterpiece, as people have said about Malazan, but I would say it was entertaining and drove me to read it within a short time period.

Erikson hit a perfect stride with the character of Captain Hadrian Sawback. The character is an extreme parody of Captain Kirk. He’s brash, intelligent, extremely chauvinist, and sexually driven. He hits on basically every female character and breaks protocol to travel on away missions (despite being the captain).

Honestly, some of the jokes don’t hit. He makes many jokes and absurd situations, many of which made me smile or outright laugh. There’s many that don’t work, though, and it’s a shame.

To be fair, the book is entertaining and fun and exciting. It’s somewhat episodic (it’s a parody of Star Trek: The Original Series, remember?) but it’s a good read.

I’d recommend it if you like absurd science fiction.


If you like this review, you may like these others:

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Life Update – 2017/10/28

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I have a lot to say today. First off, thank you so much for all the followers! I am approaching a hundred on WordPress alone, which is amazing. What’s more is I am above a hundred on my Twitter account, which is also such a great thing to see, so thank you for that as well!

I suppose I should update you, my dear reader, on my life events:

Dragon Con

My first convention didn’t happen this year. I’ve never been to one, but was hoping to go to Dragon Con in Atlanta. It’s not too far from me, so it would be a good one to visit. There’s a great scifi/fantasy scene, and I was hoping to get to know some people there.

However, it looks like I’m clear to go to it in 2018. I hope to see you there!

 

My First (Real) Novel

As for my first non-NaNoWriMo novel, I hope I’ll be done by the end of the year. I had three short stories over the last two months that distracted me, but I think that should be fixed soon.

I’ve only even written one novel before this one, and it had far less in the way of crafting an entire universe. It was also half as long as this, as NaNoWriMo requires 50k words, and this one is looking to be around 100k.

To be honest, I have sat down to write novels in the past, but never completed them. When I completed my first one in NaNoWriMo, I realized it was possible, and saw in my future the reality of a finished work. I can write a novel, and so can you.

 

Poetry Still

I still love poetry, even if I think the medium is a shadow of what it once was. The self-reflective aesthetic of the 19th century was lost to a modern interest in conceptual messaging. I much prefer poetry with both form and beauty, and I think I will begin to share with you, my dear reader, my poems.

If you’re interested in poetry, leave me a comment so I know. I’ll share some in the future if this is the case.

 

Submissions, Submissions, and More Submissions

I have two completed short stories that are nearing submission quality. One is much closer than the other, so I want to get that one out tomorrow to various publications. The second one needs a solid 5% reduction in word count.

There’s a last short story that’s not at all finished. Oh, it’s a complete story, it’s just terribly dull. I’ll need to either gut it or restructure it to be a stronger contender for an interesting story.

 

My Future

I mentioned in my last blog post about my concerns over taking my hobby of writing and turning it into a career.

The thought weighs on me like a heavy backpack. I wonder about whether trying to do such a thing is beyond me, but then I remember that I shouldn’t be lacking the business acumen (I studied the subject, after all), the marketing knowledge (I have a background in such), and the writing skills (I still polish these ad infinitum).

Perhaps I can make this a career. Perhaps not. However, if I don’t try, it won’t happen either way.


 

Thank you for reading.

That’s what’s happening in my life, dear reader. If you liked this, please read some of my other posts below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram. My Instagram is devoted mostly to the books I buy, and my Twitter has random RTs of interest to me (generally science and the arts).

Check out some of my book reviews:

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

You may like more of my work on writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Going from Outline to Manuscript