Welcome to the final installment of Ask an Author.
Yep, you read correctly. I’m out of questions, so unless I get a few new ones, there will not be a December blog entry. In the meantime, a member sent in a query for several authors.
"Which is harder to write and why... short stories (so much has to be crammed into so little space) or a chapter story (so much research to get it right, like CJ and his environs or Donny and Louis in Mikiesboy's Changes & Changes Again?)
Unless it’s a throw-away flash piece, writing a short story’s harder than some chapters in a multi-installment story. Part of it, as you mention, is the need to cram so much into so few words. Just because it is short does not mean it should be incomplete. Leaving certain blanks to be filled in by readers’ imagination, does not absolve authors from the need to provide a beginning, a middle, and an end. Even when creating a slice-of-life tale, the need for a structure remains. If not, a shopping list could be considered a short story. Now, there’s an idea for a prompt. Anyone interested in writing a flash piece with ‘The Shopping List’ as the title?
A chaptered novel or novella is definitely more difficult than a short story; mostly because of the time required to research, write, and edit. You ask us to compare an individual chapter within such a tale to a short and in many cases those can be easy. Every long tale has a rhythm; some chapters are full of action while others not so much. Those slower chapters can be easier to create. Giving readers a break from non-stop action allows us to write atmospheric chapters. A quick glance at past events, location descriptions, or small romantic interludes can round out the story and provide the breathing space needed before plunging back into the maelstrom.
Which is harder to write and why? Wow, okay, let’s see.
They are not really comparable; they are two different things altogether.
It’s a skilled author who can write a good short story and that’s not just my opinion.
Anyone who wants to or thinks they can write, should start with short stories (yes, Virginia, there are always exceptions to any rule). They help you learn plotting; help you find your voice and style. They will help you develop the skill you need so you can write that novel you want to write.
Okay, this isn’t answering the set question.
Short stories normally have one main character and plot, while novels have more and may have a number of subplots.
Short stories are not shrunken novels yet they must have a beginning, middle/climax and end/twist. To me a short story should be around 7,500 words or it’s drifting into novella territory.
That’s a chapter in some novels.
Novels, though, should not be long rambling things that go on and on just to raise the word count. Unnecessary words, subplots, and the continued introduction of new characters, show up very quickly. They muddle things. Long descriptions, and character’s mental diarrhea (in other words, a lot of Telling) make your novel a long trip to Dullsville.
But novels let you show your world to the reader, up close and personal.
So, which is harder? The answer is both, each have their own personality, and needs. Each must be written differently, if they are to work.
Right now I’m tackling a new genre of book, and the research needed to do an historical murder mystery is driving me insane! Well, okay, it’s not that bad, but it takes a lot of time. However, is an honest to goodness Short Story any easier than a novel?
The two are not scalable. A novel can’t be boiled down without harm, and a Short Story cannot be “padded out” to 20 chapters without losing its soul. Both require individual types of inspirations.
Short Story inspirations are probably rarer, which makes GA’s writing prompts such a valuable asset. Keeping in mind that real Short Stories should have twists at or near the end, one can look over the posted prompts and see if anything sparks. Once the idea comes, a Short Story can be organized and written in a few days. For me, it’s all about the drive to get it out. There is almost a kinetic buildup, and the story itself should flow easily if you are ready to write it.
With novels, first and foremost, novelistic elements should be present. I guess these are unexpected turn of events as well, but very large-scale ones. Think of Oliver Twist. The boy runs away to London, and through some accidents, is eventually placed in very home of his dead mother, with his grandfather and aunt. Fate has stepped in, and we as readers – just like Twist himself – know nothing about this till the very end. Novels can do these things very well, where in Short Stories, they seem artificial. The why of it is, novels offer more room to explore and develop people, situations and relationships. But they take more time to plan and write.
So, it is easier to get started on a novel, but easier to finish a Short Story. That is my backwards conclusion
Well, there's something to make me think.
In my case, a 'short story' can be anything from micro-fiction (under 50 words) through to a tale that stands on its own but has in excess of 10,000 words. As you might expect, both extremes have their separate challenges as well as some similarities.
I regularly post flash fiction pieces on my external blog, written to one or more prompts, which have to be 750 words or under. The prompts are posted on a Saturday; the entries have to be in by the following Wednesday. Finding an idea that fits exactly into the word limit is key. There's enough space to tell a complete story with all the components you'd expect, but it must be focussed, and pared back to the essentials. I have a chequered history in this respect. One of the worst comments you can receive is 'This is a great start'. It's difficult to let go of an idea when it can't be made to fit, no matter how many words I excise. Writing such a piece is an excellent discipline in being concise, showing, not telling, yet coming up with something that grabs a reader's attention.
At the other end of the scale, finding a story to fit is still key. Yes, the canvas is larger, allowing more detail, conversation, and depth. However it must leave the reader satisfied that the story is complete: no hanging threads, no redundant characters. It has to gather momentum throughout, with little room for diversions. Questions might still remain – that's OK. Sometimes it's good to leave people wondering about what happens after the conclusion.
I have much more experience in stand-alone shorts than ongoing stories. That said, my two chaptered stories are where I feel my learning is more apparent. One thing I wrote early on in my writing career was the first chapter of Never Too Late. Here I am, a little over two and a half years later, preparing to close the second volume. That story in particular documents what I've learnt.
Quite apart from my increasing technical knowledge, this is where I've discovered story and character arcs. And becoming so wrapped up in my principal characters, they talk to me; direct the story almost. That depth of characterisation means I have to spend much more time discovering just who they are. You can't get away with the outline sketch that serves for a flash piece.
The locales are another matter. I started out in Eric's story not naming anywhere; in a way the intimacy of the first few chapters doesn't make this a problem. Gradually it became more of an issue; this combined with my increasing confidence meant that when the second volume began posting, most places are named except for his home town. Yes, they're real places and what I describe bears some resemblance to reality.
To come back to your original question of which is more difficult – my answer would be neither. Written properly, both long and short stories should challenge authors. I know they do me.
I have to say that I don't see much difference between short stories and longer ones, other than the time involved in creating them. I usually write long stories, anyway.
I have written some stories that were planned as chaptered tales from the get-go. I don't think there is more planning for a long tale than then a short one. I research subjects as I need to while moving along, so while it does require more research for something longer, there is no more planning involved, because I start with an idea and simply create the balance of the story as I move along. I know some writers plot out the whole tale before they start, but I don't do that.
So I'll have to say that neither format is more difficult, and that one just takes longer than the other. If anything, very short pieces are hard for me, because I generally wind up with more ideas I want to add, and have to stop myself before it gets out of hand.
That’s it for now. I hope someone hears my cry for help, and we get to visit again next month.