>> Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Yay! I was good today so I get to blog! For those of you that care.
So, I'm going to discuss another topic, sparked by another blog buddy, Relax Max, who didn't realize there was a difference writing short stories vs. novels except that, with novels, "you have to drag it out more." While one does have to "drag" a novel longer (though, hopefully, one isn't "dragging it or it won't be a very good novel), writing the two, other than they're both fiction, is entirely different.
A novel gives you time. You can take your time introducing your characters and fleshing them out, time to expand on background or history or philosophy, time for large and small events to go by and make a cohesive whole. It is not a story about a single image or a single event, and, generally, not about a single character. It must be lively enough to engage and retain interest, fascinating enough to justify the background provided, compelling enough early on to be worth the time and have an ending that allows it to stand on its own. It doesn't have to answer every question, but it needs to be satisfying on it's own.
Only that last part always applies to a short story. A short story should make characters alive and compelling, set the stage, and then do whatever the intent of the short story is, but you don't have time to do so leisurely. Characters must be painted quickly but clearly, which means you can't give them the same opportunities for growth, the same level of backstory, the same amount of time devoted to dialog. The character must come through quickly or it will be missed. Similarly, description, which is more key, I think, to a short story than a novel, must be effective and efficient, describing only those elements that add to the story and forgoing anything that doesn't. Dialog must be crisp and can be used effectively, but make it count.
A short story has a great deal of versatility. It can expand on an image, make a societal point, play with a concept. It can be a small piece of a larger cloth, but it must be self contained. Everything you need to understand, to explain, to see and hear the characters and settings must be there. It's fine to get people interested in knowing more about the characters, more about the world in which they live, more about what happens next, but the story must stand on its own or it's really a chapter.
I mentioned to Relax Max that being an excellent novelist does not mean you write good stories and vice versa. There were a number of writers who particularly excelled at writing stories like Poe, O'Henry, Sake never really wrote long works. Some, like Heinlein, excelled in both.
And, of course, don't forget I'm looking for readers to provide opinions on my own short stories.