1. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Short stories as practice for novel writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Hubardo, Aug 22, 2015.

    Hi all. I've been doing what the title suggests for the last year or so after feeling like I wasn't equipped to write a novel. Now that I've written a couple of short stories I realize that novel writing is a much different process. Do you think short stories are basically condensed novels? Having read about 100 pages of a novel recently I realized that those first 100 were basically just building up to what is now happening. Writing 100 pages of buildup with tiny conflicts brewing in the meantime is something that short story writing doesn't seem to help with. Thoughts?
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2015
  2. rainy_summerday
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    rainy_summerday Active Member

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    That is an interesting question. I agree with your conclusion that novel writing and short story writing are very different approaches. Having said that: I still think you will have learned something from your practice. While you may not have developed skills in character development, I am sure that your grasp of the "moment" of a story is much better than if you had only written novels. Short stories accent a very common event, and emphasising it in a way that does not scream fake or overly-dramatic is difficult. "Good" simplicity also is more difficult than writing in a wordy way.
    Many writers of successful novels also wrote short stories. Personally, I think it's good practice for finding a story's flow. It teaches you when to skip descriptions/scenes.
     
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  3. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think short stories help you hone particular skills that are useful for any kind of fiction writing: setting a scene quickly; saying what you need to in as few words as possible; and conveying background information without info-dumping. But I agree that they are different from condensed novels. When I'm editing I look at each chapter like a mini-short-story.

    With a novel, the reader is in for a long ride. They want to get to know the characters, root for them, and then feel satisfied at the end that their investment was worth it. Short stories are more about the little twist at the end. That's why setting up characters is so important in a novel, and so much harder than in a short story.
     
  4. Shandeh
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    Shandeh Active Member

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    Which is a skill some novelists lack (looking at you, JRR Tolkien...) - though they may be absolutely genius in other fields. Still using Tolkien as an example, I can't read his work because it's such hard work to keep up with and I'm a recreational reader. But a friend of mine who can, and has many times, has mentioned he took time out of a battle to write a few paragraphs on the precise shade of grey of the side of a mountain. That's precisely the sort of thing that stops me being able to read him. The man was a genius, though, and is credited with being the father of modern fantasy for a REASON.

    I like writing short stories, it makes a nice change of pace to my usual work. I love challenging myself - how much meaning can I pack into these few words? Can I create characters and a plot in under 1000 words? Short stories can be up to ten times that length but I enjoy pushing the limits of my creativity and command of language. And I think it's improved my novel writing immensely.
     
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  5. DueNorth
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    DueNorth Active Member

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    Alice Munro, who as you may know is an accomplished and well-known writer of short stories is quoted to have said (something like) that she started writing short stories for practice, then found that she just wasn't very good at novels. Obviously, some of the skills are the same, but plot, structure, character development are all different. Another writer whose short story collections I love, but whose novels I find not as lovable is Ron Rash. Nothing "easy" about crafting a good short story. I am, like you, working on both myself.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2015
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  6. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    Amy Hempel is like that, except I don't think she was bad at novels she just found that she was achieving her narrative goals better through short stories. She only ever stuck to them for that reason.

    I haven't taken the full stab at novels yet though so I'm wanting to retry it having felt I gained a bit of skill from short stories. And I wanna keep using short stories for practice because as others have said it definitely teaches you some universal skills.
     
  7. the1
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    the1 Active Member

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    I have been going down the same path as you. I am yet to attempt a novel but I have written numerous short stories in preparation for when I take that leap. At the moment I am really enjoying writing the short stories as it gives me time to practice a few things and to complete a well-rounded story.
     
  8. fivetoesten
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    fivetoesten Member

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    The only thing I have against short stories is that they don't contribute to my novel's word count. I once considered a different way to attack the word count beast, and might still try it (but haven't yet): Write 50 flash-length pieces about my novel's characters, scenes, situations, whatever, then shuffle them around until I have some kind of order.

    A Flash is a thousand words, give or take, and 50,000 words makes a small novel. Best of two worlds! But I haven't done it yet. Not sure it would actually work.
     
  9. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think there are two main factors that come in to play.

    -Practice actually writing.
    -Practice holding a theme for a longer time.

    Writing short stories does help with actual writing but holding a consistant theme for a longer and longer time is also hard. Though one could argue that being able to wrap up a theme quickly is also a skill.


    So in that sense writing of course will help with writing in different fields but writing the field you want to actual write in is going to help more.

    Reminds me of my on WIP. The first one I did was 31k. THe second 50k. The point being after strenching myself to 31k. I found reaching 50k much easier. Just like I think if I try again and shoot for 75k next time that I will again find it easier or so I hope. lol
     
  10. the1
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    the1 Active Member

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    To do this successfully, you would still need to figure out some sort of way to mesh all the stories together to make it one coherent novel. This would be in the back of your head the entire time while you write. Why complicate things? Just write your novel if you're thinking of doing this. :)
     
  11. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Do you think short stories are basically condensed novels?

    Perhaps. My reading of the short stories by sci-fi authors Philip K Dick and Arthur C Clark lead me to see them as more like scenes than condensed novels.

    I am hoping to go from flash fiction / poem writing to novel length in one hit, but still with the view of practicing before I write the novel. I don't think you have to build up 100 pages of bits and pieces, either. I could be completely wrong on that point.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2015
  12. musicgirl87
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    musicgirl87 Member

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    I was wondering myself about this matter, and I was inclined to think that writing a few short stories would help in my developing as an aspiring writer (I just want to finish something at this point), but from your comments, it seems short stories and novels are cousins, but not siblings, and thus they each require their own set of skills.

    For a noob like me, perhaps it'd be more confusing than helpful to use short stories as a warm up to write a novel, so I guess I'll forget about it for now.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I feel that short story writing is good writing practice, whatever you end up feeling is your best medium. But while there are basic writing skills common to both, the scope of what they each cover is different.

    Short stories concentrate on one thing, one person, one event, one aspect of character, one result, one approach, one consequence. In other words, the difference between a short story and a novel has less to do with how many words are there, and more to do with focus. A short story is more like a photograph. Sometimes this photograph is very detailed, but it's just that. One photo.

    A novel has broader scope. While the individual scenes can be snappy and read as if they are 'short,' the focus of the overall story is much broader. You watch characters develop over time. You pull in lots of elements and put them all to work. Themes develop slowly. Immersion is easier to achieve. Reading a novel is more like watching a movie than looking at a photograph, if that analogy makes sense.

    Apparently some authors can flit back and forth between short stories and novels with ease. E Annie Proulx comes to mind, with her excellent novel The Shipping News, which was made into a movie, but also her stellar collection of longish short stories (which includes 'Brokeback Mountain'—that ended up being a movie as well.) I think she's only written that one full-length novel, though, which is interesting.

    I remember reading a how-to article written by Orson Scott Card. He discussed how he'd written short stories for years, but once he shifted to novel writing (and had to re-learn the art of writing to do so) he finds he now can't shift back. I found it interesting that his original 'Ender's Game' was a short story. That was how I first read it, and I loved it. I was less enthusiastic when he 'expanded' the story into a novel, which is now the version of that story most people read. The focus of the original story—the talented child in training for computerised combat who thinks he's taking an exam when he's actually engaging in a real battle that saves the world—seems to suit a short story more than it did the lengthier version. The impact of that short story ending was strong indeed, but novelising the story resulted in a watered-down effect. At least in my opinion it did.

    I think if you want to start with short stories, that's fine. In some ways they are more marketable, in that you can enter contests with them, and if you win, that's a feather in your cap. If you write in genres, there are often magazines that seek short stories in your genre, so that's another way to get known. However, collections of short stories don't apparently sell so well in the normal book market, unless you're already an established author. That may change, as modern readers seem to be gravitating towards short, easily read, easily discarded forms of reading entertainment, but at the moment, short story collections aren't as popular as novels.

    I usually prefer to read novels myself, because I love the immersion factor. I hate it when stories screech to a halt too soon.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2015
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  14. fivetoesten
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    fivetoesten Member

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    I would still have an outline. The appeal of fifty flashes is that I would be tricked into significant progress. A thousand words here, a thousand there--bam! a pile of words.

    As it is, my efforts show a pitiful result, and this may be a different route to try...
     
  15. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've found writing short stories is a helpful way to dig into characters' heads before you get started on a novel. They can also help do the same for a world if you're writing speculative fiction.

    That said, there's definitely things they won't help. Mostly issues of scope and bringing lots of things together.
     
  16. RevGeo
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    RevGeo Member

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    I for one do not view short story writing as being merely practice for the 'real deal' of novel writing. Practice indeed! I doubt that Beethoven composed Fur Elise as mere practice for the 9th Symphony, or that Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa as practice for the Last Supper.
    Art is art and size doesn't matter.
     

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