Friday, December 08, 2006

Short Story vs. The Novel

I'm in the midst of editing a short story I wrote while in graduate school. I was never at a loss for great story ideas during those years, mainly because I read a ton of history books - World War 2, Revolutionary War, European Colonialism...etc., etc. But this particular story demanded to be told - now. So one day, I put aside my homework and sat down to write.

That story has sat on my harddrive for four years. And it's time for it to see the light.

But now I've got to downshift to the short story format. I've had a few short stories published and I like writing them, but it's different than the novel. You've got to leave out all that backstory and there's not much room for character development. Every single word counts.

I might read a few articles on editing short stories to refresh me for the task. But since this story is close to my heart, it's still hard for me to back away from it and use my "head" instead of my "heart" when I'm editing it. Wonder why that is? After all, it's been four years.

I'd also like to come up with a few other short stories, but I don't have any ideas knocking on my brain yet. However, I do have a surefire way to find them. I used to belong to an online writing forum and every Saturday night, we would write "flash fiction." If you've never heard of flash fiction, it's a very short story - usually less than 2,000 words. (Find Wikipedia's definition here).

All of us would log in at a certain time - say 7 p.m. - when the moderator would post the topic for the short story. Sometimes, just grabbing a random word out of the dictionary would do the trick. All of us would write a complete short story in an hour on that particular topic, then post them. We'd critique each other's work, then have a chat afterwards.

I found it to be a remarkably creative time and I came up with some pretty neat short stories whenever I did participate. I wouldn't mind hosting something like this once a month or once every two weeks for anyone that might be interested. Any takers?

And yes, it's Friday. Let the heavens rejoice! The weekend is nearly here!


  1. Wow, I haven't written a short story since high school, and even those turned into 100+ page novellas. I've never been good at short, but I'd love the challenge, and hope to one day contribute to an anthology.

    If I ever do, you'll hear from me. I'll be the panicked woman begging for your short story editing articles. ;-)

  2. I used to write short stories until they were coming out my ears but when I switched to novel length I found it soooo hard to go back to short stories. I keep forgetting a short story can be a vignette, a moment in time. I keep trying to jam a whole novel's worth of plot into a few pages.

  3. I wrote short stories when I first started writing. I would like to write enough to have a collection of them, but I have yet to run out of ideas for novels...

  4. I started out writing novels, but I've also been doing short stories recently. I think there is a measure of instant gratification in short stories plus it is a good way to exercise your writing muscles.

  5. I don't think I've written a short story since becoming a writer. Something I might want to give a try perhaps? A new venue for creativity!

    And since you have no snow, I'll send some of ours, okay? We've got about two feet, so we should be able to spare some.

  6. I've found lately all I can write is short. I would like to try my hand at a novel again...

  7. What's a short story??? My shortest novel is 95,000 words with four POVs. In the olden days people would think I have a personality disorder because I have so many people in my head. Ha!

  8. Short stories are fun and many of them form the basis for a lot of feature films. Maybe it's because they can't hack away at vital pieces of it as must be done with novels.

    I'd be up for your monthly short story forum.

  9. That sounds like fun :)

    Have a wonderful weekend--do you have snow yet?

  10. Diane - Cool! Glad you'd like to join on the short story challenge. I'll see if I can get a few other people interested, as well. Maybe some fellow NRW'ers?

    Toni - Nope, no snow yet! In fact, it's supposed to be in the 60's here this weekend. :-( Maybe hubby can get the Christmas lights put on the house, though!

  11. I'm trying to settle down and write my first novella. It's a frightening prospect because I'm all about characterization. Don't know if I'll be able to do it or not.

    Yay -- a nice weekend coming up! :D

  12. I used to do something like that on the blog where everyone would give me a word and I would write a scene with all of the words. It was fun, and after the holidays when I get back in to writing I might like to give it a try.

  13. Missy,

    I'm going to see some of the good folks from the Omaha RWA chapter this weekend, so I'll try to remember to pass the word on to them, too.

    And please tell Meretta to keep that snow to herself.

  14. I'm drifting over to Tricia's camp. Granted, I have done things shorter than 95,000 words, but I'm much more comfortable in long formats.

    I love the story of Diana Galbaldon submitting her second Lord John 'story' to her publisher. They asked the length. She told them. Their reply: "That's not a short story, Diana. That's the length of regular writers' books."


  15. Melissa, I wouldn't mind trying a group writing time with you, Diana, and whoever. Let me know!

  16. There IS room for character development in the short story -- but it has to be done with carefully chosen, few words, each word holding much more heft than if you had the canvas of a novel.

    I love reading (and writing) short stories -- a welcome relief to intersperse them with the large projects.

    Have fun!


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