Every writer of fiction has been asked at some point if they are a writer of novels or of short stories. So, which are you?
When I began writing I set out to mostly write short stories. Why? Because they’re short, and, I figured, there are lots of magazines which publish short stories, and that should make my job as a writer easier. Right? Wrong!
No matter how short the story, it won’t be a satisfying read without a well-rounded protagonist, an interesting plot and a strong climax. And trying to fit all of these elements into just a few thousand words (sometimes even less these days with the advent of flash fiction) is no easy feat.
In a novel you have more space to flesh out your characters and storyline, you have room to manoeuvre, so to speak.
Or do you?
These days with novels, if it’s not getting a reader’s attention straight away, they’ll put it down. I’ve always wanted to do a survey of present day novels and compare them to the novels of previous times (say, the 1940’s) to see how they compare. Is it true that we have to be punchier now, or is it just a sense of nostalgia making us believe this?
A different audience
Many short stories are read online, in magazines or anthologies whereas novels must stand alone. If a reader isn’t sure about your book they won’t buy it, but a short story might be stumbled upon in an anthology and read almost by mistake. Novels require a considerable commitment on the part of the reader in terms of the time they take to read. If they don’t like your characters, or where your plot is going, they won’t invest that time.
Of course, not all short stories are published in magazines, some of them are published as collections, like these.
Although several of the stories originally appeared in literary magazines such as The New Yorker.
Short stories which turn into novels and vice-versa
When I began writing about the main character of The Forest King’s Daughter, it was in a short story. From there I went on to write more short stories about her and this progressed until I knew she needed a novel. I know some writers who do this in reverse, writing a series of short stories based on their novel’s protagonist after they’ve written the novel. Whichever way round it is, I think character driven fiction is important. If a character wants to take you someplace else, maybe somewhere new where you’re not sure if you’re comfortable going—follow them! It’s our only hope as writers, to follow our ideas through to the end, to explore all possibilities and to discover what we can achieve.
So, which are you? And do you think it’s necessary to specialise in one form or the other? If you’re a novelist, do you ever dabble in short stories? And if you’re a short story writer, have you ever attempted a novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!