1. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    Writing short stories vs writing novels.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Rebel Yellow, Jun 11, 2012.

    I've read somewhere that it is better for an aspiring writer to start with short stories as it will allow him to learn from his mistakes on smaller projects. The problem I see with this concept is that novels are a very different beast, and so if I start to write short stories, I will not develop some essential skills that I will need later on (such as character development).

    What are your though on the matter?
     
  2. maidahl
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    maidahl Banned

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    As far as honing your craft, every bit of writing you do is practice. I find I learn a LOT when I write even 500 word pieces. It helps with continuity, transitions, and developing a unique style. Short stories are great for a build up on the greater novel later on. Character development is crucial, even within a short story.
     
  3. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say just write and let it be whatever it turns out as. then work with that, to improve it. I have heard the same advice, but as for myself I started writing novels when I was 14 and I the closest to short stories I've ever come is the little writing assignements I wrote at school when I was nine... Write what you want to write, then spend your time learning the skills you need to be able to do it well.
     
  4. growingpains
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    growingpains Member

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    If it's true that new writers should start writing short stories as practice, then maybe that's why I'm so awful at writing short stories. It's my Achilles' heel. I can write novels well enough but when I write short stories I fumble (and often over-write). I have issues with resolving conflict in so few words - and that's possibly why some consider writing short stories as a good starting place for new writers. Though, at the same time, it's possible that they only consider that because writing 90K words is intimidating and overwhelms a writer just starting out.

    Either way, though, I think it doesn't matter. I think a new writer should start with what feels comfortable to them - so long as they practice different forms and lengths later on. They'll eventually learn that it's a good thing to dabble in other forms and genres and lengths of writing, taking different lessons from each practice.
     
  5. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I started writing short stories around 6 years ago. I still write them, and still think in 'short story mode' even though I've completely shifted genres from Horror to more general, almost Post-Modern fiction. If something wants to be something longer I put it away for later. I don't really have the time to work on a novella, or even a novel right now. But I'm building up to it now I've finished by degree.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the suggestion to start with short stories stems from the fact that it is less daunting to set out to write a short story than to write a novel. But, I think you should just write what ou want to write and see how long it works out to be. I don't see why you wouldn't be working on character development in a short story -- it might be even more important, because you have to make someone care about a character in a shorter time.
    As others have said, whatever you write will be a learning experience. I say write the story that's in you and see how long it turns out -- whether it's a short story, novella or novel. It might change in revision, anyway.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Every form of writing is good practice. When you're starting out, short stories may be better material for building your skills than novels because you're not as likely to get utterly bogged down and discouraged when things aren't going well. Approach your writing practice the way a piano student might approach piano practice: you could start with learning a few short Elton John songs before moving on to a Beethoven Piano Concerto. A student attempting to start with the Beethoven might find himself giving up in frustration and abandon music altogether.
     
  8. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    Thanks to everyone for the replies, it has been insightful.
     
  9. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Short stories and novels are not the same thing. A novel isn't a short story expanded, and a short story isn't a novel in miniature. There is, I think, an art to a short story and to making each and every work count.

    However, the technicalities of writing are the same in both, and as such the one can give valuable practice for the other. The idea of writers starting on short stories make sense in as much as they're less of an investment, and usually easier to sell.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    By the way:

    There's no reason you can't do BOTH! :D
     
  11. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    That is a very good point! :)
     
  12. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    As Stephen King said it himself, most of his short stories turn out to be novels.
     
  13. Mckk
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    Well, I've never written a short story before except for single page-long "excerpts" that are simply a character's emotional musings that reveal the background of the story and the immediate present. That's the closest to a "short story" I have.

    I don't really know what a short story is, to be honest. Can anyone clarify?

    In the past I just write, always with the intention of it being a "story" - I never called it short or novel or whatever, I was just writing, and it almost always turned out to be very long. When I was 9, my stories were roughly 14-20 pages long (font size 14 though), and then I did one hand-written story including pictures between the ages 10-11 and that was 97 pages. Ever since then, the length of my stories have been increasing. By the time I was 16 my stories were never less than 50-80 pages, usually over 100 and never finished.

    I've always wanted to write "a book" and to my uneducated mind, "a book" was a novel - there was no other format in my head. So I started planning for one when I was 19 and started active work in earnest for it last year, when I was 22 (or 23?). It's over 80k words now and I'm rewriting.

    I don't know if my not writing short stories affected things, but I feel in terms of improving your writing skills, it's all the same. As for being daunting - certainly a novel is daunting, I would not encourage anyone to start a novel if he does not know if he is passionate about it, and almost certainly I would say start with a short story esp if you're unsure, because, knowing what I know now about novel-writing, it's not for the faint hearted. But thankfully, I'm the sort who likes to finish and is determined to finish what I started - if I had not made up my mind to finish BEFORE I started my project, I would not even have a first draft, that much is for 100% sure.

    So for the sake of not discouraging yourself, it is easier to start with shorter, smaller projects. But if you're sure it's a novel you want, then there's no reason to force yourself to write shorts - you could write shorts for practice whilst working on your novel. But like I say, decide beforehand that you will finish, or you simply won't.
     
  14. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's definitely a difference between a short story and a novel. The same basic skills are needed for both, yes. But a novel requires the writer be able to maintain interest over a long time; a short story demands getting the reader invested quickly. That's just one example of the different 'crafting' needed. I write both, but have to have a very different mindset when I write one over the other.

    It may be less daunting to start with short stories - but if one actually has a novel-length story in their head, trying to write a short will be torture. And vice versa.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Short stories are general focused tightly upon one principal plot, and a minimal set of characters. The short story writer needs to be concise, and not wander far from the main story track. Character development is generally limited to a single transforming event, if that.

    Short stories are great training for eliminating fluff. There is a sub-category, flash fiction, with a firm upper limit word count, usually between 100 and 500 words, that excels at developing focus.
     
  16. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    There is definitively a big divide between short stories and novels, they are both different in terms of what they can do, and - more importantly - how they are structured and presented. A short story needs to, as someone said before, grab attention quickly, but this is not to say short stories should end quickly either. Some of my personal favorite short stories are 12,000+ words. I myself started with two short stories of over 6,000 words.

    What I suggest is getting a few collections of short stories and seeing how they are written and developed over time, as opposed to a novel. What you can do with them, and how good writers use symbols and underlining meanings to flesh out their stories, and how much. Too much symbolism can be a big problem, and too little could make your story pleasing, but forgettable; this can be both a plus and a minus - here it depends on what you wanted to make, but with too much symbolism it can only be bad. I suggest if you are going to write a short story start with something simple and flesh out the idea through drafts trying not to go over board with anything in-depth at first.

    Some writers you might want to look at are:

    Ahdaf Soueif - Who is an amazing short story writer who writes about cross-cultural encounters between east and west.
    Haruki Murakami - Whose novels and short stories are as amazing as each other. He generally writes funny, strange tales about young people becoming adults, and the emotional hardships that come with finally leaving the teenaged, adolescent mindset.
    Raymond Carver - Who is was one the 20th centuries great short story writers and 'dirty realists'.
    Stephen King - Whose short stories can be better than his novels.
    Ray Bradbury - Who recently, sadly, passed away.

    All of these writers' short stories are worthy of reading, and they all show a vastly different attitudes, styles and methods when it comes to short stories. One or two of them have even written about writing short stories too which can also really help. This is the most important advice anyone can give: read short stories.
     
  17. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think either is really better than the other. I wrote both, although lean more towards the longer stuff. But yes, short stories can be fun and can serve to keep you from getting too rusty if you don't have the time to commit to a novel at any given point.
     
  18. Siena
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    Siena Active Member

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    It's a very, very, very good idea to start with short stories and gradually build them up.

    You can think of a short story as one chapter in a later novel.

    Great when you get used to it.
     
  19. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    When I was younger, I was a total short story snob - I was going to write novels, not short stories! The trouble with that thinking is novels take up huge ammounts of time , you can get discouraged , distracted , disinterested. Looking back , I wish now that I had taken the time to at least try a short story. They really help. Because it forces you to get past the beginning and middle, right to the end, all within a reasonable ammount of time. Now you've got something to tinker and work with - unlike novels which, if you're like me, you can sabotage the flow, by reading over the beginning with a dire - I can do better. Worst yet, a beginning novelist might not get past the outline stage.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    When I joined WF, I had no interest whatsoever in writing novels. I have always loved the compact power of the short story.

    I do have a couple novels I am working on, but I still lean toward short stories for most of my ideas. So I split my time between them.
     
  21. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    But then this goes back to the differences between writing short stories and novels. Some writers will never master the novel; others will never get the hang of short stories. I think it's worthwhile trying both, but I would heartily disagree that writing shorts prepares you for novels. In fact, I would be strongly inclined to say just the opposite.
     
  22. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    A short story is complete, just as complete as a novel. It can't function as a chapter that way. However, you could take the idea from the short and expand it (not just the writing but the idea itself) and turn it into a novel, ala Stephen King, for example.
     
  23. Mr.
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    Mr. Member

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    It isn't? :confused:
     
  24. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    I wholeheartedly agree that both forms are completely different and require different approaches. A short story is just that - a short story. A novel requires much more depth in that it needs to sustain itself over a vast number of words.

    That's not to say that the skills required for both don't intertwine. You may take different approaches to both works but I like to think that you can learn from any form of writing.
     
  25. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't know if I meant prepare. I just meant help in the general sense, that it would help you get over the hurdles and finish something. Also it's a good way of developing a tone, a voice . I don't think anyone with dreams of being a novelist should stick to short stories - cause like you said they are two completely different undertakings and have to be approached differently. You wouldn't want to get istuck n a short story mind set when tackling a novel.

    But one point in favor of starting with short stories is , I've noticed a lot of beginning writers tend to mimic other novels, wasting huge ammounts of time writing duplicate fiction. A short story might expose this problem with less time wasted.
     

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