Short Stories v. Novels: Fight!


There’s a school of thought that says you should begin with writing short stories and work your way up to novels; that the short form will provide you with the background and skill set you need to plot and characterize your way through the long.

I tend to think that’s like saying you should start by eating apples and work your way up to oranges. They’re entirely different, er, fruits (I was going to say animals, but, well), and I’ve never thought being good at one means you’ll be good at the other.

Me, I’m good at novels. I’m good at ideas that keep right on trucking along and develop over hundreds of pages, not tens or even fewer. Short stories are much harder for me, both to read and to write. The single thrust of a short story has to be damned clever, or profound, or witty, for it to work really well, and I think that’s flat-out hard to do. I admire people who can do it consistently and well.

I have written three short stories in the last few days, and hope to write another couple by the end of the week, in plans of doing a short fiction post week over at my main journal,

Clearly I have lost my mind.

I’m sure this is good practice for something. I’m not sure what; for an eventual anthology of my own stories, maybe. Or for being invited to participate in anthologies. I’m certainly unlikely to get rich whipping out 2500 word stories and selling them, since venues for shorts often can’t pay a lot.

I think the crux of it is that it’s a challenge. It’s something I’m not especially good at, and I’d like to be a dab hand at most aspects of my chosen career, so I need to practice. I’ve spent many, many years practicing writing long stories. A week here or there practicing writing short ones probably isn’t going to get me up to the same speed, but at least it’s a chance of improvement.

So what are you working on that’s not your natural strength?


8 comments to Short Stories v. Novels: Fight!

  • Catie,
    I made pretty good money on a 10,000 words ss.
    Surprising to me, as I expected to make, well, nothing. I expected to be told that I’d get my name on a book with Jim Butcher. Which would have been totally worth it for the promo. (Not something I’ll tell my editor or agent.)

    But as it turned out, the payment was more than I made on my first book. A happy shocker.

    Like you, ss are hard for me. I want to expand on a character, draw it out, develop a conflict. I’m not crazy about them. But then, I’m not crazy about a lot of things I do for money or promo, but I do them anyway. It’s just part of the job of being a writer. Sigh…

    But I have a couple questions. Are you going to post them on your website? For free? Just curious, as I did a poll not long ago, and the concensus was — sell them, don’t post them.

    And if you want to do an anthology, um, don’t forget your friends here…

  • Short stories were my first love. I’m all about instant gratification, so a story that I could start and finish in a week or two was more fun than a novel which took so much longer. (Same reason I loved sewing – three hours, and I had a new outfit! It’s like magic!) I never imagined I could sit still long enough to write a whole novel.

    Now that I’ve been novelling for a while, it’s hard to get my head back into the short-story mode. But I’m determined to clean up and improve some old stories, and see if I can sell them.

  • I’m thinking of doing a five day Internet Busking Fiction Week, Faith. It may very well amount to giving stories away for free, but I really don’t have the interest or enthusiasm to go find out places I could theoretically sell them, nevermind go to the trouble of submitting them. People occasionally invite me to write short stories for anthologies; if I make money writing shorts, it’s likely to be in that kind of situation. That’s okay with me. šŸ™‚


  • I am working on my weakness right now, the novel. Short story format is my strength. I love going in fast and hard into the heart of the story. All this buildup and development is hard for my instant gratifiation mind to handle.

    Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE to read novels. It is when I try to write them that I feel like I am trudging through mud.

  • I enjoy reading short stories but I don’t write them. I’m a novel person when it comes to writing.

    That said, oddly, I just finished writing a very short story that I had started half a year ago. It sat there because I had no idea where it was going or how it would end. All I had was one really intriguing line that opened the story and a couple of paragraphs leading up to the point where things happen.

    Just today, what those things happen were supposed to be popped into my head.

    Now, I think I was inspired by diving into some short story reading yesterday (which I have not done in quite a long time as I’ve been concentrating on novels).

    And this morning, what I was supposed to do with the story hit me over the head. So I finished it.

    Normally when I try and write short stories they are in fact scenes of back story for a character or event as part of my world building. I think I only have ideas for 3 real short stories (the one I finished this morning being 1 of them),

    For me, these 3 short stores are a challenge and a way to play around with different writing styles. The one i just finished is filled with very short simple sentences throughout. One of the others I’ve started writing in 1st person present tense, which I actually can’t stand personally, but that is what feels right for the story. The 3rd is just a cool concept at the moment and may turn into more of a novella, not sure yet.

    For me since I’m not a short story writer, I’ll focus on them being a vehicle to explore different narrative voices that my novel writing would not employ.

    Will it lead to something? Who knows? At least Iā€™m writing.

  • Beatriz

    Novels are marriages

    Short stories are affairs.

    Thanks to a dear friend I’ve rediscovered the joy in those brief affairs– even the ones that don’t quite pan out the way I expected.

  • “Novels are marriages

    Short stories are affairs. ”

    So does that make me a Literary Philanderer? šŸ˜‰

  • I’m a bit like Catie in this regard (I seem to say that a lot — Catie, you and I really need to meet at some point and talk shop over some decent beer or a nice bottle of wine). I write most naturally to novel length. But last year, after finishing the second Blood of the Southlands book, I took some time to work on some short stuff and quickly churned out two stories that I liked. I’ve since sold both. One was in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine show this summer, and the other will be appearing in Black Gate at some point.

    When I finish the current WIP I’d like to go back and work on more short stuff. I’ve started to like it.