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Advice to writers.... or is it?

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

  1. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    It's pretty obvious she didn't mean you have to completely forget everything you know about writing short stories...
     
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  2. hawls

    hawls Active Member

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    I never suggested that was what she meant. I know she was referring to specific things. So I stand by my post. I would like to know why unlearning what you know, whether it's one thing or a thousand things, is preferable to understanding how to properly apply what you know.

    I don't intend to be read as hostile! I'm genuinely interested in the discussion (the civil parts at least) and I am trying so hard to use language that conveys that genuine interest.
     
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  3. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    But, but...

     
  4. hawls

    hawls Active Member

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    'forget what I know' can refer to any amount of known things to be forgotten.

    If I had ever thought Bayview meant to forget everything I would have said 'forget everything I know.' But I did not. I said 'forget what I know' which, again, can be referring to one thing, a few things or everything. I meant it as a non specific amount and that interpretation isn't disqualified by anything else I said so please stop attributing hostility and hypocrisy to my words. I don't know what I've done to deserve it.
     
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  5. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    I'm not attributing anything to your words, just reading them. And if you're going to talk like that perhaps you shouldn't put words into another poster's mouth and then claim you meant something other than what you typed...?
     
  6. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I guess if there were infinite time, it would be great to learn everything. But there isn't infinite time, so we have to pick and chose what we learn. Time spent learning one thing means less time to learn something else.

    And, yeah, I think we have to be careful of learning "bad" habits, or habits that don't apply to our ultimate goal.

    When I was a kid I rode horses. Hunter/jumper, if that means anything--the kind where you try to look pretty while going over jumps. And my instructor taught me to steer with my reins. Pretty basic stuff.

    Then as an adult I started riding Western--like cowboys. And in Western riding, the reins are much less important--cowboys had other things to do with their hands, so the horse is controlled much more through the legs, seat, weight, etc. And after riding Western for five or ten years, my coach was still yelling at me to stop using my reins so much. I did get better results from using other tools more, but my earlier training was hard to overcome.

    So... maybe writing is different in that we have more time and can recognize missteps and correct them as we go, but you're right, I'm a fairly instinctive writer and I think things flow better if I'm not thinking about things too much. I don't want to have to consciously choose what technique to use, I want it to be the one that comes to me naturally. So I don't think it makes sense for me (or writers like me) to collect a bunch of habits we don't plan on using.

    If, as a child, I'd decided I wanted to be an excellent Western rider, I think it would have made sense for me to start riding Western right away. More time to learn the specifics of that discipline, and, more importantly, less time wasted on unlearning the specifics of a different discipline.

    But there are people who are excellent at riding both Western and English. For them, the skills seem transferable, or they're better at shutting off one set of habits than I am, or they've figured out something else. That's great. But it doesn't work too well for me.

    So for some people, shorts are a great place to start. Just not for everyone.
     
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  7. Quixote's Biographer

    Quixote's Biographer Member

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    I think this thread started out constructive and interesting, like I believe @DeadMoon wanted, but then it sort of fell of a cliff. So, maybe it's a good idea to repost the initial advice, break it down a little and clear up some confusion? Maybe that'll help get the discussion back on track? Worth a shot...

    Note: The first 13 words says TWICE that this is advice for people Starting out and Beginning your writing life. In other words, it DOES NOT say that if you've written novels for years, finished and published several and writing novels is all you have time for, you should IMMEDIATELY stop writing novels and spend a year writing short stories. In other words, most likely this advice doesn't apply to any of us, assuming you're here on the forum because you've written a lot in your life already.

    First of all I think the question regarding this particular piece of advice is, is this good advice for someone starting out their writing career?

    Secondly, I feel like people are talking over each others heads all the time in this thread which is why people don't agree on anything. It seems like a lot of people post opinions based on what they think others have said rather than taking the time to understand what was said. And there seems to be a lot of 'I can't argue with that so I'll just ignore it and pick on something else' kind of argumentation as well which is just prideful and dumb really...

    What I would like to know – which I think could've been a very interesting discussion if people weren't so defensive and stubborn but instead tried to understand and help each other reach a conclusion – is the overlap between novels and short stories. This is not about being right or wrong or superior or inferior, I just think that if we could come to some sort of agreement on the overlap – what features are the same, what features are unique to each of them, what techniques can you learn from each and take with you (and I'm also interested to know specifically what you'll have to unlearn from writing short stories to write novels as I'm sort of going that route myself) – it'll be much easier to discus the advice in the OP.

    So, maybe we could steer the discussion in that direction before returning to the advice? Just a suggestion...

    (and sorry if I insulted anyone but sometimes you just gotta put your foot down and be the bad guy to get back on track...)
     
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  8. cutecat22

    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Yes! Exactly that.
     
  9. Wolf Daemon

    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    I suggest just not paying attention to them. It's a lost cause in all reality.

    As for what is similar between Short Shorts and Novels I would say the basics are as I described a while ago:

    • Dialog
    • Story Arcs
    • Descriptiveness
    Short Shorts through Novels are one in the same (meaning Short Shorts, Short Stories, Novellas, Novels [and anything I may be missing]) when it comes to the basics of writing each one. [For those few arguing against this, it's pure fact. They are all in the same category of being "Prose: a literary medium distinguished from poetry especially by its greater irregularity and variety of rhythm and its closer correspondence to the patterns of everyday speech"]

    And as we are discussing "Is writing short stories once a week for a year for a new author a good idea" I would say yes because not only does it show you how to use the basics but it also allows you to try different things per each story, allows you to find your voice and writing style, allows you to figure out which genre you like writing more and allows you to develop your own tricks for writing. Doing this while trying to write chapter by chapter of a novel in the same way would be messy for a new author, It would be confusing for readers, lack real direction and voice at least at the beginning. It also doesn't allow for them to try other genres.

    As for what you need to "Unlearn" I think hawls put it best when asking:
    You don't have to unlearn anything, it is up to a good writer to understand all the components of writing prose and to use them when appropriate. Not to "unlearn" something so they can then do it over again.
     
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  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is one of the areas in which a short story can be quite different from a novel. A short story writer should not feel as though they have to follow the story arc structure of a novel.
     
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  11. Wolf Daemon

    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    I would argue the base structure of a story arc is the same for both but that there are added parts to understand for both.
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    They can be, but the short story can diverge quite a bit from the structure novels generally follow. I don't think a short story writer should avoid a structure more like a novel if they like it and feel they can make it work for the short story, but I don't think they should be constrained by it either. I think there is a tendency to lose focus when people try to take a novel structure and impose it onto a short story.
     
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  13. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree. That is the most common "mistake" I see in short stories. Shorts require a hyper focus and trying to impose a novel structure on a short story arc might lead to losing focus.
     
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  14. Wolf Daemon

    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    Which shows that it is a basic and understanding how and what to add onto it for either a novel or short short is a good tool to have.
     
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  15. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That is exactly right. Which brings us back to the original point. For some people, they don't want to write short stories. They only want to write novels, so practicing on short stories for a year might not be the best practice for that. Sure, there is good that can come from a year of short story focus, but some people don't want that particular good. They'd rather work on novels and hone that particular skill.
     
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  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think it is a good (and necessary) tool to have if you're going to write both. If you're only going to write short stories, you don't need to know how to make it work for novels, and if you're only going to write novels you don't have to worry about making it work for short stories.

    It makes the most sense to gain experience doing exactly what it is you intend to try to do professionally. If you're only going to write one, then you can learn everything you need to know from writing in that form alone. If you're going to do both, then you're going to need to work at learning the differences and similarities between the two.
     
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  17. Wolf Daemon

    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    Which is something we can both agree upon. You only need those added tools depending on what you work on. But that doesn't change the basics of Story Arc being something a person can learn in a short short. That IS what we are discussing. This would allow them to learn the basics of writing and allow them to experiment before they need to learn the added other skills and tools.
     
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  18. E. Cuevas

    E. Cuevas New Member

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    I think that is is a very good idea, and not just for youngsters, but for everyone. My reasoning is this, all the great successes in business came after repeatedly trying to get the same project of the ground! By trying to get a story published each week, some will be published. Then the published stories will get your name known among the publishers, and you will have a reputation to back you up when you approach them with your completed novel.

    So I say yes, write lots of short stories, but also have the novel ready to show when your name gets more widely known.
     
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  19. deadrats

    deadrats Contributing Member

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    Although I agree with you that this is good advice, not everyone will get published, depending on their standards. And it is important to have high standards when it comes to where you submit your work, especially if you want anyone to care about it as a writing credit to your name. I wrote 52 stories and sent them all out. I didn't sell a single one of them that year. But it did establish a commitment to writing and improved my storytelling skills greatly.
     
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  20. Amy Brahams

    Amy Brahams Member

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    What i feel is one should first take baby steps. And if you are aiming to be a good ghost writer you should first focus on writing short stories. To get a better grib over your skills.
     
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  21. deadrats

    deadrats Contributing Member

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    Short stories aren't baby steps! Sure, people can start with short stories, but I've been writing for a good 20 years, and my main focus is short stories. Famous and well-known writers write short stories all the time. It is an art from more than a practice lesson.

    And I'm not sure how many people here are trying to be ghost writers. That's an entirely different topic.
     
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  22. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. This gets at the misconception running through this thread that short stories are somehow just little novels.
     
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  23. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. It's kind of like people who say they want to write, but they'll write a children's book or two first, just to practice for the real thing. Erm. That's like saying I'll learn to play the flute first, so I can learn to play guitar later on. Both of them make music, right? But the flute looks so much easier and quicker to do, and easier to carry around, etc etc. It's just your mouth and a few holes to blow through, versus six strings and fingering and strumming and plucking and plectrums and all....

    It takes years of practice to learn to play EITHER of them well. Some people can master both, but one doesn't necessarily lead to the other.
     
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  24. deadrats

    deadrats Contributing Member

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    I do still think short stories are great practice for writing anything. Even if it's not your desired form, what this challenge does is let you test out being a writer with a writing routine. The challenge isn't just to write short stories for practice. It is to write one a week. Fifty-two stories. The idea is that no one can write 52 bad stories in a row. And at the end of all that you will have a better sense on what makes a good story, your writing will be cleaner and you will be used to writing all the time and finishing what you start. It's a hard challenge. But I still believe anyone who does it will be glad they did. I wrote my first novel before I was really into short stories. I could write a much better novel now after having written probably somewhere around 100 short stories. But it's just advice. I don't think it's bad advice. Even if a lot of you guys would never do this, there is still value in this advice.
     
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  25. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the "establish a routine" thing could be done just as well by writing, say, a chapter of a novel each week.

    Honestly, if I were going to suggest a path for people to follow in order to become novel-writers, I'd suggest starting with fanfiction. You can post it a chapter at a time so you can get quick gratification, there's a built-in audience so you're pretty likely to have readers, and I think writing novel-length fanfiction is much more likely to serve the "beginner novel" function people seem to be looking for in this thread.
     
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