Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Novel vs. Short story

I was naive when I was in college. I knew that writing a book would be different than writing a short story. I mean the book is much longer. You add some words, throw in some tangents to go off on and BAMMO- you have a book.

I have learned a lot since then. For one I learned that the short story and its close cousin, the flash story, are completely different beasts than a novel. Aside from the obvious length. You have to think about different things to make them work.

The flash is, in my opinion, the story at its most elegant. It is petite and to the point. A slice of life. It is the prose equivalent of a poem.

The short story tends to ramble a little more, still without a word out of place in it best case. We get to know the characters and perhaps the setting a little more. We have a larger world to explore within the short story.

The novel. What can I say about the novel and its step-brother, the novella. At least from a writers point of view. We have not only a world we can explore, but universes. We get the chance to play God on a grand scale. With no limits to how we do it and how long we take for the journey, as long as we hold the readers and our own attention long enough to make it work.

I find it unfortunate that the university setting that I was educated in, at least in my writing classes, focused on the short story exclusively. Not that I didn't get a good education. I wasn't ready to play God at that point either. Something about walking before running. (I wasn't very good at the flash story at that point either.)


Aaron Polson said...

I really don't understand the creative writing focus on the short story in college. I love them, of course, but I think the focus on writing them is out of wack with today's world.

Then again, I'm a little out of wack with today's world.

Cate Gardner said...

The novel is a much more calming beast - I'm too impatient with my shorts.

Barry Napier said...

I agree with Cate. Even after I've written a short story that I feel is a success, I still feel as if there is more to do. Writing a novel keeps you on your toes and can be exhausting and, therefore, more rewarding.

K.C. Shaw said...

*hugs the novel*

I think creative writing programs focus on the short story because they're so much faster to write, read, and critique. I'd like a program that focused on the novel too.

Fox Lee said...

I hear you. I don't even think books and short stories speak the same dialect! ; )

Jamie Eyberg said...

A lot of MFA programs focus on the Novel, or at least book length manuscripts. Quite frankly, most college students, especially at the 4 year level, aren't ready to spend a huge chunk of time on one large project, especially one that could take months or even years to create.

And then there is the polishing of it.

I do think that it is a misguided sense of direction that most writers get when they come into a college setting. The reality is most short story writers (none that I can think of) can make a living as a writer. Novelist struggle and the market is much more conducive to making a living from that. At least it is at this time.

I could have had another post dedicated to this response- Maybe tomorrow.

BT said...

Hmm - the jury is still out on this one with me.

Flash fiction is nice to read occasionally but I'm left with a feeling of emptiness. It's like having a craving for something and walking into a room filled with its smell. You can be filled with the aroma but it does nothing for the hunger.

Shorts are different again. I like the chance to focus on one main point, but allow my creative, descriptive juices to run free (settle, Nat).

The novel I'm still wrangling with. Yes I get a lot more time to draw a reader in. I get to play with foreshadowing and tension a whole lot more which is way cool. But I'm a long way from mastering any of this.

Guess I'll just continue to play as I learn.

I feel a little sorry you guys in the US don't have something similar to what I'm currently doing in regards to education. Granted it takes a while for me to get to the part of the course I want most - the novel project, but you can shape things so it all helps you move in that direction (as you've probably read on my blog). But the more I move through it, and although I'm finding it valuable, I still think just being the PEBKAC and writing is the most worthwhile.

Carrie Harris said...

Very interesting, although I'm not sure that I agree that the novel has no limits. I think they're probably more forgiving, but they're still there.

Jeremy D Brooks said...

I think I've said it before, but my novel attempts were pretty bad until I cleaned my claws on my first dozen or so short stories.

Now my novel attempts are only kind of bad.