Monday, August 05, 2013

Which is easier to write?


Novels or short stories? Which type is easier to write?

I've been thinking about this since a Twitter post yesterday that said writing novels is easier than writing short stories. Well yes, it is for some because there are people who are natural novelists and their creative writing abilities are really focused in that direction. However, the reason for this 'professional' pronouncement wasn't about creativity. The reason was that it's easy to 'crank' out novels because you can ramble on and on and there is room to make mistakes.

Well, you know, if that's how someone writes novels, I can bet they aren't successful at it.

The rest of us who take a professional approach to novel writing avoid rambling and hope to avoid any mistakes. Many of us take years between first and final draft. So let's assume that cranking out novels is not what dedicated authors do. (Yes, I generally write fast first drafts. No, you don't see those novels for a few years while I work through editing them, usually multiple times.)

Short stories? They may often be faster to write, but they are by no means easier. Deciding on the limits of the story (what specific incidents to cover, how many characters are too many, etc.) can be really difficult. More than one author has found themselves with part of a novel rather than a true short story because they keep seeing beyond the limited time line and not bringing the story to a reasonable ending. The readers get that far and want the rest of the story that wasn't told.

Paring down the prose to fit within the limited space of a short story often means giving up prized descriptions, snippets of personality and peeks into the background of the story. It means a different focus. What happens here and now, not what will happen next.

Writing good prose in either case is equally difficult. The act of writing for either of them takes the same time and dedication for each word.

So let's assume that in an exchange of word-for-word, neither side is easier. They both require the same dedication to writing the best story you can. Novels, however, are more than simply longer short stories. Novels usually add dedicated subplots, a longer time line (with more things to track), additional characters (often with several POVs), more scenery and twists and turns of the plot.

They are obviously not easier to write than short stories.

Nor are short stories good practice for writing novels. They are good practice for sentence structure, discovering your particular style and voice, etc. However, short stories are not novels in small form. You cannot learn to write a novel by writing a hundred short stories and thinking they add up.

I mentioned that some people are natural novelists, but some are also natural short story writers. And some can do both with equal ease (and difficulty).

People who do not write fiction (or who have written so little they clearly don't understand how the process works) often make odd comments about what others do or should do. People who want to claim to be the head of the class need to at least learn what the basics of the class is before they start making really ridiculous statements.

We all say odd things now and then. We even often believe very strange things and that seems more than true of authors and work. How many times have you come across a 'you MUST' rule only to find out later that it was really a 'this works for me' pronouncement?

If people give you advice on writing, make certain they know what they are talking about and it's not just a glib statement meant to prove their soaring intelligence. If the person is not a fiction writer, how can you expect them to have a clue about actual writing of fiction pieces? If you want to know if they can really help you, make certain you can read their fiction somewhere. Don't listen just to pronouncements. You can't know if your style fits with theirs. You can't even know if they have a clue what they're talking about until you see it. No, blog posts (unless they are pieces of fiction) do not count. Neither do nonfiction books on writing. Anyone can write one without having a clue about the actual process.

Be careful what you believe, and even so, listen to everyone. You never know what little piece is going to leap out and be the one thing that truly helps you make the next big step in your writing.

And along with this, never believe that you already know everything. Accept that there are different answers for different people and that pieces of those answers might improve your own writing ability.

Oh, and novels are not easier to write than short stories. Short stories are not easier to write than novels. Good writing is equally difficult and rewarding, no matter what the length of the material.


Anonymous said...

I've heard of writers who claims 'such and such' a novel just abut wrote itself; whereas writers have said they sweated over a certain short story, often because a sutiboe ending avoided them.

Weird JiM (You can run, but you'll find it hard to hide. (grin)

Zette said...

And I've known people who took a decade or more to write the first draft of a novel, but have breezed through short stories in a few days.

And people who take a long time to write either.

And people who can write either fairly quickly.

The point is that neither is inherently easier or harder, and to tell writers that they can ramble on and on and make mistakes in a novel, without worrying about it, is obviously wrong.