1. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    When are you ready to start a novel?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by marina, Nov 23, 2008.

    I was reading Janet Fitch's myspace (author of White Oleander), and she had this to say about when someone is ready to start a novel:
    Just wondering what you guys think about this statement. Is it wrong to try to learn how to write a novel by writing a novel, or is it futile unless you have all the tools sharpened and ready to go? And should you instead focus on short-story writing first?
     
  2. blankdraft
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    blankdraft Member

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    whenever you want to
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think starting withg short stories lets you develop your writing fundaqmentals, aqnd will save you a lot of false starts on the complexities and commitment of a novel.
     
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  4. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I agree with the advice in the context I believe it is given. To write a serious novel that you plan to get published, this advice should be followed. But if you enjoy writing then you should get your first novels out of the way. I just finished the first draft of Vampire Stasis, and I learned a lot in the process.

    I continue to write short stories as well so that I will get better. I wrote a few short stories while working on the novel. Even the first draft of a novel is a lot of work though. I would say if the person does not have the time to work on a novel and write short stories at the same time, they should only write short stories until they get one published, and then work on their novel.
     
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  5. Ore-Sama
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    Ore-Sama Senior Member

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    Disagree. Short stories aren't stepping stones for writing novels, there is a world of difference betwen them and just because you can write one well dosen't mean you can write the other well. Me, I do terrible in short stories. I like my stories to be vast in scope, with plenty of comfortable room for character development, plot development, etc. There are probably others who are very good with short stories but couldn't write a good novel to save their life. Short stories aren't just stories that are shorter. If you want to start off smaller, write a novella, where there is no real fundamental difference other then length.

    If you want to write a novel, just go into it. Sure it won't be great but that's how you learn. I wrote and finished my first novel at age 11. It was a piece of crap however without any guidance or anyone to give me advice I wrote it, and learned from it. I wrote another novel 5 years later. It was bad, but so infinetly better then the first one, and I learned from it. Same with screenplays, my first one was crap, however from every single screenplay I write, I learn no matter how good or bad the actual screenplay is.
     
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  6. yellowm&M
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    yellowm&M Contributing Member Contributor

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    i think that all depends on the writer themsleves. for that author writing short stories might be perfect, but that doesn't mean that that is the right way to write/start a novel, i think mainly it depends on if you feel ready to write it and if you've found a way that works for you, i also have to agree with Ore-Sama that shorts and novels are different and every novel/short story/etc is a learnign experience in its own right.
     
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  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    We're all individuals. Nobody can say that what it will take for you to be ready to write a novel. I can't write short stories. By the time I was in high school, I wrote very few short stories that were not for school assignments. Writing short stories does teach you most of the basics, but writing a thousand short stories will not make you able to write a good novel.
     
  8. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Novels are novels, they're completely different animals....which take different styles of writing. I thought i had a great novel when I had a 1000 page 137K 'huge' novel written. In actuality, everything was done way too thinly to really be worth something. So, instead, I found splitting that "novel" into two and fleshing out the story much deeper made for a stronger product, with better writing. I'm at 480 pages on "the betrayal" and i'm only at a certain point of the plot that had me at page 150-160 on the original version. What's different? Everything is fleshed out more, the characters, the situations, the tension...

    that's why novels are something completely different from writing short stories. A short story is wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am in essance...not with novels...
     
  9. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    I have nothing but admiration for the people who can write short stories. They never work for me. I keep finding more interesting "what ifs", and before you know it I'm a novella length.

    I think everyone's process is different. What works for JF may not work for anyone else. All you can do is try different techniques and processes and find out what works for you. It might even be a combination of several different things.
     
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  10. Mr. M
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    Mr. M Member

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    Perhaps the more compelling question is not when are you ready to begin a novel...



    but when are you ready to finish one?
     
  11. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I don't even bother with writers' quotes because they all apply only to certain people. Don't take a quote 100% to heart unless you feel it applies to you personally. And don't feel bad if it doesn't, because everyone writes differently.

    I didn't start out writing novels but when I was little my tendency was to write stories that went on and on, write sequels to stories, continue stories that others had started, etc. And even to this day I find it much easier to write serials of over a hundred chapters rather than a short story. Novels and short stories are two different things. Knowing how to write one might help you learn how to write the other, but it won't necessarily do so. Don't think that just because you know how to write a short story, you'll know how to write a novel, because they're apples and oranges.

    Writing of ANY kind will help you with writing in general but don't think that you can't just start out writing novels because some people do. And some people don't. So don't feel bad if you CAN'T just start out writing novels. Try writing something and find out.

    I envy people who can put out lots of short stories featuring different characters and original storylines! But that's just not the kind of writing I'm meant for. I focus on longer stories and recurring characters. *shrug*

    I would take the quote to mean, just make sure you know the BASICS of writing (dialogue, grammar, spelling, how to put a sentence together) before trying to write anything serious--be it short story or novel. You don't necessarily have to write short stories first. But you do have to write SOMETHING.

    I personally feel ready to write a novel when I've mulled over the plot long enough that I know the story will be novel length. That's the only criterion for me. Regarding feeling ready to write a novel in the first place (that is, my very first novel ever), there was never a point when I said to myself, "I feel ready to write a novel now!" I just sat and wrote it. In the end that's the only way to really find out.
     
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  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it makes sense to learn how to ascend a steep hill successfully, before tackling mountain climbing, right?

    whether you hone and perfect your writing skills on short stories or some other aspect of the art, to attempt an assault on that 'writer's everest' before you do, is not a good idea...
     
  13. Pauli
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    Pauli New Member

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    Well...I'm only new here and my background is writing for the theatre but personally I think the only way a person can learn is by doing.

    When I wrote my first play back in 1994 I had no idea what I was doing.

    OK - so I had a bit of an idea, I studied theatre at Uni but not writing for theatre as such.

    The play I wrote made a profit and got an award - I'm not bragging here rather I make the point that I didn't let inexperience stop me. Because I didn't know the 'rules' of the genre I was able to create something new and different.

    My advice? Go for it! Learn by doing.

    Regardless of what you write - short stories or a novel - you will learn the craft.

    That's just my opinion anyway...
     
  14. ManicParroT
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    ManicParroT Contributing Member

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    I think she's got a point. Going straight for a novel seems a bit like moving straight to oil paintings without learning to sketch properly. Certainly, I believe that writing short stories can be incredibly useful, even if you're bad at them (and especially if you're bad at them).
     
  15. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    The difference between novel writing and oil painting is that writing is much less permanent. If you mess up, you're free to go back and change anything as much as you wish. In painting, it's much more important to get it right the first time, or else you have to start all over again (or wait for the paint to dry and paint over it, but who wants to wait that long for every mistake?). Writing is easier to experiment with. I'm not saying you shouldn't practice, but at least if you make a mistake, you don't necessarily have to start fresh.

    And, as has been mentioned before, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me to prepare for writing a longer novel by writing something short and to the point. The two are quite different.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sorry, but I don't entirely agree with the analogy. Oil painting is often correctable, either by scraping op the wet paint with a palette knife or wiping with a rag. After it dries, it's more difficult, expecially if the paint layer is thick (impasto). Other fixes are often blended in to wet paint.

    An novel is large and complex enough that small changes can have a ripple effect throughout the entire piece. Also, a novel usually takes MUCH longer to complete than a painting does.
     
  17. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Sorry. I'm not a painter, so I'm not really familiar with how it all works. I just know that whenever I go to paint something and mess up, it's pretty freaking hard to correct it.

    And more to the point, yes, ripple effect. Short stories don't have as much of a problem with that, correct? So you're free to change things in a short story as you wish without it being all that big of a deal. Change things halfway through a novel, and you could end up having to do a complete rewrite. That's one reason why it doesn't make much sense to me to prepare for writing a novel by writing short stories; suddenly, you don't have as much freedom to change things as you're used to.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The point in starting with short stories, or at least my point, is to get familiar with the dynamics of character and plot development in a medium that is more forgiving of false starts. You can also hone your sentence and paragraph structuire, and aspects like dialogue and pace. You can try out different narrative voices and POV strategies, and learn firsthand why some work better than others.

    These are all fundamentals you should havce some comfort with before you dive into writing a novel.

    Of course, a novel IS an entirely different animal. You will encounter challenges you never dreamed of when you were writing short stories, and you will continue to develop the basics, too.

    But at least ALL the cards won't be stacked against you.
     
  19. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Fair enough. I'm thinking more along the lines of "Don't just write short stories to prepare for a novel you plan to publish." Maybe write something longer beforehand, too. Or maybe not. Come to think of it, I've never written a short story in my life that lasted longer than two pages, so I don't suppose I'm the best person to be giving advice on this. :p
     
  20. Ore-Sama
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    Ore-Sama Senior Member

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    If you can't write good short stories but are able to write good novels, then it's entirely pointless to start with short stories. You can't say "do it this way" and expect everyone can do it that way. Different methods for different people.
     
  21. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    In my opinion it is not possible to be able to write a good novel, and not be able to write a decent short story. Although it is possible to be able to write a good short story, and not be able to write a decent novel.
     
  22. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    By that logic, my the novels I write could not be good. Some people just can't write short stories. I know of another author who has published a few novels, who simply can't write short stories on her own. I know this because she has said so herself in a interview.
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Short stories require focus, to not wander off into irrelevancies. In a novel, you may be able to get away with some sloppiness in that regard. But I believe that same practice in staying concise on on-track will make you a better novelist.

    I could point out several big-name novelists who could do well to remember that, except I'd probably get flamed for kicking someone's sacred cow.
     
  24. Ore-Sama
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    Ore-Sama Senior Member

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    If "Paradise Lost" were a short story, we'd just see Santon falling down into hell, meeting Adam and Eve, telling them about the tree, then they'd be banished. We wouldn't have the fascinating characterization of Lucifer, and Adam and Eve's expuslion would not be nearly a dramatic.

    That's the difference between short stories and novels. Short stories are about getting to the point quick. Novels are about taking you a journey, regardless of if there's an actual point or not. I mean, in most stories you possibly could eliminate all the sub plots and stick to the main point, but that would take away a lot of the impact. "Anna Karenina" could've realistically be shortened by at least 300 pages without heavily impacting the main story, however it would've been nowhere near as good. If "Lord of the Rings" only focused on Frodo's journey and never shifting to the rest of the fellowship, it would've been a nightmare.

    You can not say "this would do well for certain authors" because you are not those authors. Hell, even my suggestion of "just get into it" might not work for many authors, I'll admit it. No one should write short storis just because some people reccomend it will help them, they should write them because they want to and feel comfortable doing so.
     
  25. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    **cough**Stephen**cough**King**clears throat** Oh, sorry about that, got something caught in my throat.
     

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