Monday, August 27, 2007

Big Stakes Revisited

Michelle pointed out that what she calls "realistic domestic fiction" (RDF), but which I typically just call call literary fiction, often has smaller "pay offs" than genre fiction. She's right, and most of my commentary from yesterday relates primarily to genre fiction. Michelle also points out that even "RDF" typically has some level of pay off, and that such stories are easiest to sell.

Steve points out that pay off can be very different between short stories and novels. My yesterday's comments generally were focused on short stories. As Steve suggests, the pay off in novels comes primarily from what happens to the characters (although a satisfying plot ending is important to). In short stories, we don't live with the characters very long so the ending has to develop most of it's punch from the conditions of the tale itself. Twist endings, in particular, can work well in short stories but are much harder to pull off at novel length. In fact, they usually feel like cheats in the novel.

I heard many years ago that writing short stories and writing novels are different art forms. I've never totally agreed with that thought, but there are certainly enough differences to make it difficult at times to transition between the two. I enjoy reading and writing them both. Anyone have any thoughts on this topic?

18 comments:

etain_lavena said...

I find shorts stories so easy to write, I just really get into the characters. With novel lengths my attention and rapid thoughts drive me away from my characters often...very fun either way:)

cs harris said...

I admire anyone who can write short stories--my creativity simply doesn't flow into that form. But then, I don't usually read them, either. Truth be told, I don't like most of them--yours being notable exceptions!

Lisa said...

I've never published anything, but I've tried both and find the novel a much more natural fit for me. I've read quite a few good short stories, but I've many that leave me feeling unsatisfied.

Steve Malley said...

I'm really aware of the differences, at least in part because I can't write a short to save myself.

My first graphic novel was supposed to be a throwaway 8-page strip. My second was supposed to be twenty pages long. Then I gave up and admitted I write novels.

'Hoof of a goat...' 'Sleeping with your sister...'

Sorry, I'm still chuckling from Candice. Back to the Blowdown!

Jon said...

For me this biggest difference between writing novels and writing short stories is what chess players call "sitzfleisch." The ability to sit for prolonged periods. Literally "butt flesh."

My last post, "Wicker Loveseat," was written in about three hours.
I tend to keep my novel chapters to about that length too...when my ass gets numb, I must be near the end.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I've always looked at a short story as a snap shot and a novel as a photo album. I love both forms.

When writing novels, I think there is a greater feel of crafting something. Maybe because you're working with something larger. You can watch characters develop, feel plotlines and themes intertwine. A short story is usually a glimpse..it can be just the tip of the iceberg.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

I agree with Raymond Carver -- short stories have more in common with poetry than either of the forms have with the novel. Short stories contain a moment, like an affair, whereas a good novel is like a marriage -- you get to live with it a long time and are sorry to see it end unless it totally bites and then you are glad! I almost cried when Irving's Prayer For Owen Meany ended. It damn near killed me.

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

I do not typically write short stories, I have a book I am writing but it is far from ready and I am not sure you would call it a novel. If it were not that this book comes from a true story, I would more likely be writing short stories, with poetry taking stealing first place.

As in likes, I tend to like short reads only because I have not the time to sit and read too much at once and if days pass I also tend to get interested in something else.

Christina said...

That's an interesting discussion. I'm fond of both, though I can't seem to write short stories very well, they seem to keep leading to something bigger. It's still very interesting to see what other people have to say on the topic.

the walking man said...

I think the shorter the piece the harder it is to write because something of less than 500 words still has to tell the whole story, including some key element of the characters at the same time delivering a beginning, a middle and a "pop" at the end.

But then Novel length works 55k words or more take a hell of a lot longer and are more intense in what you have to let the audience know about the who, why, what and where and still deliver a satisfying ending. Not to mention revisions every few months because when you go back portions just don't fit the way you thought so they need to be redone.

Personally I don't care if what comes out of the fingers comes to an end in a hundred words [cool] or if the fingers keep going and going then that's cool too, because I have enough archived, never been seen before work, that I can pretend to the world that I am writing shorts every day while really working on a new full length piece.

But unlike most people who write I never have the idea of marketability on the back burner of what I do, I just do it and if someone sees it and comes to me with an offer I may or may not let it go permanently into the public domain. Which in a way is freedom to just write.

My problem, if it is a problem, is that I have never found a single type, that sustains my interest enough to stay with it, that's why I am all over the map with what I write. Too be honest I don't know if thats good or bad just that it is the way it is.

Peace

mark

Sidney said...

I think elements of real domestic fiction can be used to greatly enhance genre fiction. I have read novels where the domestic drama was so good it surpassed the genre elements. Card's "Lost Boys" comes to mind. You get caught up in the main character's job troubles in the computer industry, struggles at the family's church and much more all revolving around the central ghost story.

Shauna Roberts said...

In sf/f, most of my life I read primarily short stories. Worldbuilding is very important to me. The longer the story, the more evident the cracks and holes and inconsistencies in the author's construction of the world are. Also, in hard sf, characterization is sometimes weak. The longer the work, the more annoying that becomes to me.

I only started reading a lot of novel-length sf/f when I started planning a novel of my own. Now I find myself reading more novels than short stories.

As a writer, I find novels and short stories equally comfortable to create.

I have an advantage in writing short stories in that my nonfiction pieces have maximum word limits in the 400 to 800 word range. To have 3000 or 5000 words to write a short story feels luxuriously long.

Avery DeBow said...

I've always preferred to have one or two good friends that stick with me over the years than to have a bunch of in-the-moment buds. I guess my writing's the same. I'd rather spend time getting to know two or three characters and their stories over months and years, rather than indulge in a fling with a short story. And, just like all prolonged relationships, my novel romance is exciting, rewarding and many times aggravating as hell.

Charles Gramlich said...

Etain, I think these days I prefer to write novels rather than shorts, but I wasn't always that way and I think it's partly because I've done a lot of shorts.

Candice, I think different genres lend themselves to either novels or short stories. I think SF and horror can work very well at short length, whereas thrillers or romance need a larger canvas.

Lisa, Some of my favorite reads of all time have been shorts, but I do see some weak ones out there.

Steve, I'm chuckling with you.

Jon, thanks for stopping by. That's a good way to judge it I'd say. It tells you when it's likely that your attention is about to start straying...to your aching ass.

Stewart, I like your analogy. I see what you're saying about novels and stories, but sometimes when I'm writing a story, especially when I have to cut it down. I feel like a jeweler then carefully cutting planes into my diamond, or my big ugly rock as the case may be.


Michelle, most of my first stories actually were prose poems so I can see where Carver is coming from.

Inside, I like shorts for reading when I'm in the throes of a lot of work for exactly that reason.

Christina, I tend to get more novel ideas these days but when I started all I could think of were short story ideas.

Mark, I agree that writing a short story can certainly be hard. I think a 5000 word short is harder than the equivalent 5000 words of a novel, but overall a novel is just a lot harder to me because it takes such extended concentration over extended time.

Sid, I agree, as long as those elements don't get in the way of a good story. I think such elements have a way of increasing the realism of any tale and are well worth adding.

Shauna, I think SF is one of those places that particularly lends itself to qualitiy short stories. I do find myself getting frustrated sometimes as I get into novels when you start to see the seams in the costume so to speak.

Avery, you make me sound like a cad for flirting with all those short stories. Well, I've been called worse. ;)

Rachel said...

I think the payoff at the end of the short story, whether large or small, still needs to be really good or the reader will be pissed off. It is easier, I think, to have a grand payoff at the end of novel.

I mean, take romance, for example. Typically, it's boy meets girl, boy and girl part, boy and girl get together again for good or ill or whatever. In a novel there is room and breadth for grand passions, fate intervening and personalities to grow. In a short story, you have to figure out how to do that in miniature without it looking trite and two dimensional, so sometimes the payoff needs to be a little smaller - where the ending is a kiss, the promise of more to come, rather than the happily ever after wedding.

Am I making sense?

Erik Donald France said...

It's all good ;)

Bernita said...

Stakes might be small in a novel, objectively, but big for the character thus developed.

Annie Wicking and Loman Austen said...

I too enjoy writing both. I find that writing a short story helps me if I'm not sure way my novel is heading, if I write one when I'm stuck with the novel.
I think it helps to clear my mind and feel like I've completed something while I'm still working on my novel.

Good luck with your writing.

Best wishes

Annie