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!

Poetry: “Cardinals in Spring Snow”

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Two cardinals hover,
In warm morning light,
Twirling to old lands,
Crimson wings alight.
~
Rolled clouds move swiftly,
Ready to burst forth,
White manna poured out,
Paint on rusted earth.
~
Bird chirps cease,
Hidden crickets quell.
~
The warm red feathers,
Loosing foggy breath,
Warmth sought inside holes,
Life hiding from death.
~
By next cold sunset,
A cardinal flew away,
Shivering alone,
The snow’s price was paid.

 


It snowed here recently. As a result, I saw wildlife get covered in it. The image of Spring life covered with snow was an incongruity I couldn’t ignore.

– Frank Ormond

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

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

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

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?