1. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Advice to writers.... or is it?

    Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by DeadMoon, Jun 18, 2016.

    This may or may not take off but I wanted to put it out here and see how it works out. A place where a piece of writing advice, given by a successful author, can be discussed, analyzed or just strait out shunned. I will start with... Ray Bradbury


    Don’t start out writing novels. They take too long. Begin your writing life instead by cranking out “a hell of a lot of short stories,” as many as one per week. Take a year to do it; he claims that it simply isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row

    I like this but still am conflicted. I want to do both but I am also impatient. And I think it is better advice for younger writers who have a lot of time write but not so much for someone who is past his mid 30's and just starting out.
     
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  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's not bad advice if you're interested in short stories (the one per week thing), and in certain genres it's a better approach than others. Writing short stories and novels are different skills, and if all you want to write are novels I don't think you should feel it necessary to begin with short stories instead.
     
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  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I can agree with this from experience. Having been in "novel mode" for so long, my last two attempts at writing short stories, though the critiques I received were very positive as to style and skill shown, they all mentioned that my short stories felt more like vignettes or chapters pulled from a larger piece, and they were absolutely right.
     
  4. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I really wish I had spent time writing short stories before attempting my WIP. It would have saved a lot of annoying editing if I had learned the basics before my attempt.
     
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  5. Fernando.C
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    Fernando.C Active Member

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    Well I started out with a novel. and while it's been really really difficult at times and I've yet to finish my WIP even though I've been working on it for years - I'll finish it this years I swear! - I don't regret the route I've chosen one bit. I've always wanted to be a novelist, that's my goal as a writer and where my main passion lies. And though I enjoy writing the occasional short story, it's not what I want to build my career as a writer upon.

    So why should I spend a year or so of my life writing short stories exclusively when writing novels is what I want to make a career of?
    I understand writing a short story or two in between working on your novel for a change of 'scenery' so to speak; that can actually be good practice and a nice creative boost after a long period of work on your novel, but to devout the entire first year of your writing journey to short stories if that's not what you wanna do as a professional writer? that doesn't make any sense.

    Also:
    This may be true, but there's also no guarantee that any of those 52 stories would be anything remarkable either, especially if you're writing them just for the sake of writing them, which I think is what will happen if one follows this advice to the letter.
     
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  6. Fernando.C
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    Fernando.C Active Member

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    That's how most of my short stories feel to me. Even though all the short stories I've so far written are meant to be standalone pieces - four of them where actually written specifically for entry into the short story contests of this forum - and I have no intention of ever expanding upon them, I still wind up creating a whole world around them. I usually create a lot of background and history behind the characters and the world both in relation to the events happening in the short story and sometimes even independent of that.

    For me that's how my brain works. I feel like I needed a lot of space for my creative juices to run freely and create cool stories.In other words I need to get to know my characters and my world in order to tell a story about them, even if the stories is not gonna last for more than 3000 or 4000 words and is never gonna be revisited.
     
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  7. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Like Wreybies, my shorts are more like vignettes than stories come full-circle. I think that's because I simply don't have the word count when writing shorts to embellish a full story to my satisfaction. However... I've noticed recently that my break away from novel writing has done me some good. Rather than getting caught in a loop of over editing my short story for the 1oth Anniversary comp, I managed to make it all the way to the end in the first draft, trimmed the fat of the second draft, and the third draft is to refine the language used and generally tidy up. Trying to write a novel seems to have put my shorts into perspective, so it wouldn't surprise me if it also works the other way around. I think there are lessens to be learnt in one that can equally be used in the other.
     
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  8. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I made a lot of mistakes writing my first novel. I don't think any of them could have been avoided by writing short stories first. I don't think any of them could have been avoided by reading more how-to-write books or reading more advice from successful authors. I had to go through that learning curve, painful as it sometimes was.
     
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  9. Sack-a-Doo!
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    I agree. Other that a dubious flirtation with short stories about 35 years ago, I've never really been interested in writing them. That makes sense when I stop and think about how much I like reading short stories (not very much).
     
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  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. And I think the amount of time it takes to develop the craft remains the same. One can point to time spent editing a novel and wish one had written a ton of short stories first, however that same amount of time spent getting better would still be spent, it would just be spent writing short stories. If that's not what you want to write, then spending that same time working on novels is probably more valuable.
     
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  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it depends on what elements of writing you need to work on. If you're still struggling with SPAG stuff, or how to stick sentences together in a graceful and pleasing manner, then, sure, short stories seem much less painful. But obviously they aren't going to teach you everything you need to know about writing a novel - subplots, pacing, etc.
     
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  12. Vagrant Tale
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    Vagrant Tale Active Member

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    This is awesome advice I feel. I think its super coincidental, because I've been trying to write a novel for over a year, and recently I made massive headway with short stories. My biggest problem is that I have a vision for a novel and I am disinterested in anything that does not add to that. So my compromise is that the short stories I am working on are in the same setting as my larger novel. I believe doing this is doing double-duty, as I will gain significant experience writing via the short stories, and I will also connect with my setting for my future novel.

    TL;DR I think this is wonderful advice for a variety of reasons.
     
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  13. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Upon further reflection, I'm thinking I might have avoided a lot of writing on this novel if I'd used short stories to find my voice. The last seven rewrites have been about voice and I'm so tired of this story now.
     
  14. bonijean2
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    bonijean2 Senior Member Supporter

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    Yes, I agree that this information has been very helpful. Also, it would make sense that a writer could have positive feelings of accomplishment more often by writing one short story after another. Perhaps learning the mechanics of good writing would also be easier because of less editing. However, I have been working on a historical novel for a couple of years now and although certain chapters might be able to stand on their own as good short stories (with a little tweaking), I think the overall sense of accomplishment writing a good novel with each chapter being cohesive to the central theme outweighs writing just short stories.
     
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  15. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    By writing short stories, especially in a community like this, the author can gain an understanding of story structure.

    It's easier to see how elements work together to make a well written, well executed story when it can be seen more easily as a whole.

    I wish more people who are learning to write would attempt shorter stories for this reason.
     
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  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Novels and short stories have different structures. I think you're better off writing what you want to write, and I'm no more likely to tell a novelist to write short stories than to tell a short story writer they should start with poems.
     
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  17. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    The two formats share fundamental elements. It's easy to assert that they have different structures, but you shouldn't dismiss what they have in common. Of course you can. That's entirely up to you. But I agree that there are more obvious differences between poetry and prose. Still, I feel that the more you know and understand about all forms of writing the better your writing will be overall.

    I feel that short story form is the best place to start when learning.
     
  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I'm with Steerpike. Writing short stories teaches you hardly anything about writing a novel, besides the technical stuff Bay mentioned.
     
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  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with start with short stories, if you want to write short stories to start with. That's true even if your ultimate goal is to go to novels. But the advice is presented as though even if you have no interest in short stories and only want to write novels, you should still write short stories first. Bollocks and bad advice.
     
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  20. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yep.
     
  21. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I was interested in what @Wreybies and @obsidian_cicatrix said about 'vignettes.' I had occasion to read through a collection of locally-produced 'short stories' recently (not local to me, but local to the place I was visiting at the time.) Without exception, ALL of the pieces in the anthology were vignettes. In other words, nothing happened. It was just a scene or two with characters more or less either ruminating about their past lives, or looking at fairly mundane stuff in their present lives and 'gaining insight.' While these were worth reading and reasonably well-written, for the most part, I began to wonder. Do folks really understand what a short story is any more?

    Or do they think a short story is a piece of fiction that is around 1500-3000 words long? And that's all it has to be? Oh dear....
     
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  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That's really odd, @jannert! Maybe the authors were given a brief? :/ All the recently published short story collections I have (and I buy a lot of them) are proper stories, not vignettes.
     
  23. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, a woman I spoke to about it, whose contribution was highly regarded—to the extent that she was asked to read it aloud at an event I attended—seemed totally puzzled. She'd never heard of vignettes, in this context.

    I forget how the discussion began (I was being complimentary, as it was well-written) but I tried to explain that a short story has a strong plot. Events happen, and there will be a change at the end from the way things were at the beginning. She pointed out that her story—one about how a woman who watches waves washing onto the shore which makes her realise that her life has been giving her repeated chances at getting it right, or some such thing—had resulted in the woman character being different at the end.

    I was at a loss to explain further. Maybe it's me who is off-base?

    ..........

    Just had a thought while writing this. Most of the people in the collection were middle-aged or elderly, and most of them were writing memoir-like stuff. Lessons learned, what I'm grateful for, how I wish I'd done differently, etc. Maybe that was the framework they were dealing with.
     
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  24. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm. Maybe if she resolved to make changes but even so... I think you're right.

    I like the way @Sifunkle once defined it to me--a vignette is like one frame in a comic strip whereas a story is the whole strip.
     
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  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If there is a character change I would say that likely qualifies as a short story. There are some famous short story writers whose stories are quite understated in terms of any action or conflict, but in which a transformation of character occurs.
     
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