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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Long or Short?

Kaye George

We all hope to fool our readers, don’t we? We want them to breeze through our deathless prose and think it was easy to write that. After all, we dash these things off all the time, right?

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Once you try it, you’re not fooled, though. The writing that looks simple, reads easy, is the hardest to do. Then there’s the type of writing. Journalists don’t find it easy to write fiction. Novelists don’t find it easy to write short stories. And short story writers don’t find novels very easy, either. Poets generally just write poetry. Then there’s non-fiction. Whole ‘nother animal.

Thick Books Upsplash morgan harris
It’s hard for me to write a novel, but, I admit, much easier to write a short story. Many writers are the exact opposite. Novels are fun and short stories are hard work. Well, it’s all hard work, sometimes. (Except for those rare instances when The Muse dictates a story to you, fully formed, and you need only copy down the dictation. I think I’ve had that happen twice.) I really do think that the best novels and stories make it look easy. That takes skill! 

Preferring to write novels or short stories may be due to the difference between our own basic tendencies. I tend to write “short,” which means that when I write a novel, it comes in way under the required word count and I must go through my edits, keeping in mind that I need a lot more words. I learned to write lean through doing flash fiction. A 1000-word story doesn’t leave space for extra words. A 100-word story, even worse. I consider flash fiction excellent training for short story writing.

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I know many writers tend to write “long.” They end up way over their word count on the first draft and have to cut, cut, cut.

Sometimes I wish I could HAVE those cut words for MY novel. Yeah, they probably wouldn’t go with the rest of the story.

Word count is usually dictated by the publisher. My required word counts for my novels are in my contracts. I’ll admit, I’ve turned some in that are a bit shy of the requirement, but you’re allowed to round your word count. No one said I couldn’t round it up.

If you’re a writer, do you prefer writing long or short? If you’re a reader, does it look easy to write a novel or a short story?


Kait said...

You may struggle with novel length, but your books are always fabulous, as are your short stories. Combining the two forms is difficult. Few writers handle it with your aplomb.

Like you, my first drafts tend to an economy of words. Unlike you, I find writing short stories almost impossible. Which is odd as my writing life began with the True Confessions magazines!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

It's tough to transition from short stories to full length books. I write my short stories in batches during December (when focusing on anything other than holiday meal planning is impossible), January, and February.

I'm doing Camp Nano right now, churning out turgid dialogue and narrative for a rough first draft. The uncut, unpolished gem of a story is there, and I'll do many rounds of revisions to create the final, brilliant cut gemstone.

Jackie Layton said...

Writing short stories is a gift! I can't imagine going back and forth from full-length novels to short stories.

My first drafts tend to leave out setting and senses, so adding them into my book always adds words.

I enjoyed today's post, Kaye. Thanks!

Kaye George said...

Thank you so much, Kait! Thanks for weighing in Margaret and Jackie. Good thing we don't have to show our first drafts to anyone.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I think if a writer isn't under a time crunch (hahaha), that switching from short to long or vice versa can be done with minimal groaning. Having to pound out a short story while simultaneously writing a novel is a true hardship for me. However, I agree with what's been said here, you do both fluidly and effortlessly!

Kaye George said...

I can't do both at the same time either, Maggie. If there's a crunch, I have to drop one for a bit. I'm so glad to see that I have a couple of you completely fooled. You're welcome to witness me tearing my hair out while I'm finishing up (I hope!) the novel I'm working on. No, on second thought, don't watch that. You can see the effortless finished product instead. :)

Edith Maxwell said...

I'm with you on the sparse first drafts, Kaye. I just hit 30000 in the WIP, and that means I'm at least halfway through the book. I write spare stemming from my former career as a technical writer. There's no fluff in a sofware manual.

And I also love writing short stories. So many fewer words to get your head around! So much less time needed. Plus I can try out darker themes and points of view than my novels take.

KM Rockwood said...

I love writing short stories. To me, they just kind of flow. There's no need to weave together various elements, and sometimes careful use of stereotypes (I always maintain that a stereotype has come to exist because there is a strong element of truth in it) can leap over the need to use hundreds of words.

I love the idea of writing novels, and sometimes I even love working on them, but it's a totally different ballgame.

Warren Bull said...

They require a somewhat different set of skills. Some of my favorite short stories have taken as long to write as my novels. I think a short story is the ideal length for a mystery, but that does not make writing easier.

Kaye George said...

Edith, yes, on exploring darker or just offbeat themes. I had the most fun once writing a short story in second person present tense, but I could never, ever keep that up for a novel. Although I read a novel in first person plural once. I didn't even realize that's what it was until I was way into it.

KM, they flow for me, too. I love finding just the right noun or maybe one adjective, so that no other words are needed.

Warren, you're a novel writer! That's why short stories are difficult for you.