Wednesday 3 August 2011

Short stories v novels

While taking a break from novel-writing (or more likely, not getting down to the next one), I've returned to short story writing. I used to love it. Short stories are compact, don't take too much time (a novel takes me about a year), and if they're rejected, well, it's not the end of the world.

But I can't regain the enthusiasm I once had. I've just received a nice-sized cheque for stories sold, and I ought to be grateful, but something's missing. Hacking things down in the garden this afternoon, I decided that, for me, the short story is like a one night stand, as opposed to a novel, which is a much deeper relationship. I can only speak for myself, and I'm in no way denigrating the art of the short story; heaven knows, it's getting harder and harder to write saleable short stories. But with a novel, you develop a relationship with your characters over a long period of time; you live with them, think about them, plan for them, look forward to getting back to them. A novel really does become a part of you.

Like the one night stand, the short story engenders a brief period of excitment and satisfaction (sometimes!). The novel is a marriage. And when I'm not writing one, how I miss it!


  1. Hi Frances, sounds like once you get back to your novel writing you will feel complete again! :-)

  2. I agree the feel of each type of writing is very different. I enjoy both, but in different ways.

  3. Frances that's one of the best descriptions of writing short stories that I've read! I also like the long term commitment of writing a novel. Short stories are somehow never as satisfying although they can give an instant gratification. In South African literary circles there's currently a resurgence of the short story genre - quite a few anthologies published recently.

    Judy, South Africa

  4. As I have never written a novel myself, just a few short stories, I can only comment from a reader's perspective. For similar reasons as the ones you point out, I prefer reading novels to short stories. I like to delve into the story, get to know the characters, develop a feel for the location(s), and look forward to getting back to those fictional people and their fictional lives in the evening. That never happens with a short story, because before you can delve into it, it is over.

  5. That's really interesting, Frances. I was a short story writer first and I still like the speed of shorter forms in comparison to novels.

    However, I think I'm beginning to appreciate the difference as a writer, and I'm actually enjoying the long-haul aspect of novels for the very reasons you so cleverly highlight. And as a reader, I've always preferred novels, so perhaps that's telling!

  6. Hi Frances. Very well put! I do both too (I mean short stories and novels, not one-night stands as well as a marriage - in case my husband reads this!!), and yes, there's nothing like writing a novel - like a marriage, it's a mammoth task with ups and downs but so much satisfaction, especially if it works out well. But I also find that writing a short story, even in the middle of a novel sometimes when I want a break from it, can be very satisfying in a different way. To manage a short plot that fits the required length, with a satisfying ending and believable characters can be quite an achievement and sometimes I feel quite fond of my short stories and wish I could publish them in a book!

  7. Diane, you're right. I will, I will...

    Patsy, I envy you. Maybe I'll get that feeling back (for short stories) if I plough on.

    Thanks, Judy. I was glad when the solution came to me, as I'd been wondering what was wrong with me apropos my relationship with my stories!

    Librarian, I quite agree. I rarely read short stories, not least because I miss that lovely feeling of getting back into a good novel (at bedtime, for me). The downside, of course, is missing all those characters when the novel is finished!

    Rosemary, it seems you feel the same. But it is lovely to write and complete a short story in a relatively short time.

    Olivia, you're right. I too like the discipline of length and subject, and the more tidy confines of the short story. But the next novel is gestating, and I'm happily planning that (in my head. I'm in not-getting-down-to- it mode at them moment!).

  8. I agree with Diane, Frances. It must be like giving up smoking. Once you go back to it, you'll be fine. I've read both your novels and I think they're wonderful. Please don't give up

  9. Thanks, Rosamund, I think I will. When I've done the ironing, walked the dog (ok, maybe I don't have one), cooked the dinner, made that phone call...

    BTW I loved your last poem - keep it up! (For poem, see Rosamund's blog.)

  10. I wouldn't stop anything I was getting cheques for ... but that's just mercenary!

  11. I agree, Frances. Even now that I've simply finished my novel and am tidying up the very last edits before querying, I find it's harder to get as excited about the short stories I once loved. I still like them, but the relationship, as you say, is so much more fleeting.

    If you ever need to brain storm, or just dump crazy about your next novel and the reasons you're having a hard time getting it started, you have my e-mail, and I'm always happy to listen, smile, and nod. :)

  12. Fran, you're right. And I'll carry on with the stories (and I'll enjoy it). But the novel still calls!

    Nevets, you are kind. I'll certainly bear you in mind. I now I think I'll do a re-write of my rejected third novel, taking out the crazy bit whih was the cause of its downfall (I knew it even as I wrote it, but got carried away) and adding lots of new bits. One thing I've learned in many years of writing is that you HAVE to love the actual writing process, because that my well be the only bit that brings any kind of fulfilment (esecially in the current climate).