Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Long and the Short of It

I’m not very good with short stories. I like to read them of course, but for some reason, I’m unable to churn one out. I didn’t start my writing career with short stories, either. For my twelfth grade creative writing class, my short story was twenty pages long. When I wrote my first non-school assigned piece, it was a 140K novel. The few flash fiction pieces for the Writers’ Platform Building Crusade are probably the shortest things I’ve ever written.

Whenever I have an idea, I immediately start thinking how I can work it into a story. I usually have a few characters, the main conflict, and an idea of what the world is like. Then when I start writing, it gets bigger and bigger. I come up with more ideas, more things that happen, more challenges for the characters to face. And pretty soon, I have a novel.

Part of the reason I’m a long-story writer is because I like to spend time with the characters in their world. I’ve never been able to condense their journeys into only a few pages, again, because I like to explore with them. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a good thing. Having the skill to say something in two words instead of twenty is an admirable trait. You can do more, experience more, show more…or just do it in fewer words.

What do you think? Any short story writers out there? I’m curious. Can you discern when an idea is a short story and when it is a long one? Is your process for writing them similar?


  1. I do think short stories and flash fiction are important in learning the craft of writing...or at least making a writer make the best word choices possible.

    Although I write novels, I do write more flash fiction and short stories. The way I discern what length a story needs to be for the idea has a lot to do with the idea and where I start in it. Short stories usually start at the end of a story. Novels meander through scenes.

    I try to think of flash fiction as a second in time and short stories are a few moments in time.

    You can also think of each chapter in a novel in a way is like a short story, since it has a beginning, middle, and end/or cliffhanger to move to the next chapter.

  2. Being a long writer myself, I can't help much. However, one thing that our rhetoric instructors like to emphasize is that the shorter the piece of writing is, the more each word has to justify its place on the page. So I try to keep that in mind, no matter what I'm writing.

  3. I feel your pain, so to speak.

    I've always had a very tough time with writing short stories, especially when I was assigned to write them in graduate school. Seemed like my ideas always needed more pages in which to fully develop. Then they would turn into novellas and good luck finding a home for *that* in today's market.
    If I have any advice, such as it is, I would say this: just write. Write your idea to the point where you feel it is complete. If you overreach the golden 80K word mark, then you have a novel. If under, maybe look at where you can either pare down to a short story or expand into a novel-length book. Not always the easiest task to perform, unless you have a magazine that's willing to publish it as a serial, but a few pairs of fresh eyes can help.

  4. Being a short story writer you might have thought I'd have some good advice for you.

    I got nothing. The writing process is all a bit mysterious and intinctive for me.

    But I have found an interesting post from Juliette Wade on exactly the same topic.

    I'm coming to the issue from the other direction. As a writer who can write short, but wants to go long.

    It's tricky. Let us know how you go on.

  5. I'd like to know this, too. I've never been a short story writer. I always want to go long.

  6. It's funny - I seem to have the exact opposite problem from you! I can write short stories no problem, but when I go to try my hand at a novel, it ends up wrapping up way more quickly than I wanted it to. I usually know when my idea is a short story idea and when it's something bigger - I usually go by the plot line. If it's complicated with lots of twists and turns etc., then it's a novel. If it's simpler, or if it only takes place in the course of one day, or even less than one day, then it's generally a short story. My writing process with short stories is generally pants-ing it, whereas with novels, I do outline.

  7. I'm still thinking about this one. I've just made a blog post, outlining the process of a horror short story from start to finish, for anyone who is curious.

  8. I've never been able to write a short story. I've tried but they all seem to careen into novels.


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