Aversion to Short Stories

Many consider novels to be a more intimidating form of writing than the short story, but to me, short stories are more difficult for these three reasons:

1. It’s hard to boil a story down until it’s concise enough.

With a novel, you’ve got room to sprawl. Short stories, especially those under 2,000 words, often feel like they moved a little too fast. It’s difficult for me to really get involved with a short story since the writing and revising are over so much faster than with a novel. For that reason, I prefer novels. Yes, you have to boil them down, but with a short story, the reader is hyper-aware of pacing errors and the overuse of words.

2. It’s more difficult to achieve a balance of story elements. (characters, description, etc.)

There just doesn’t seem to be enough room in a short story. How can you develop a character well in such a short space? What about description? Setting? A concrete and tightly-woven plot? Whenever I write short stories, the secret to balancing these elements often eludes me. I often end up with well-developed characters, but not much of a plot. When I go back to develop the plot better, my word count balloons out of the required length for a short story.

3. Create new characters for each story or re-use old ones?

Maybe I’m lazy, but I don’t like to create a new cast of characters for every short story when I’ve already spent so much time developing my existing characters. Most short stories I’ve done recently have focused on my existing characters and events in their lives. If I do create new characters for each short story, they feel anemic and under-developed. And I usually don’t use them again after writing that one particular story.

 

Novels are my writing form of choice. There’s nothing like the absorbing experience of writing and revising a novel.

How about you? Do you prefer writing short stories or novels? Why? 🙂

24 thoughts on “Aversion to Short Stories

  1. I prefer novels for exactly the reasons you outlined. For a short story you have to cram so much into so little space, and sometimes that’s not possible. This is particularly frustrating right now because I’m writing about a writer who writes short stories, and working with a maximum word count is really frustrating for a long-form writer like me. Why recreate characters and worlds every single time? That’s a lot of energy to spend on a short story. Besides, every single thing matters when writing even the first draft of a short story. When drafting a novel, there’s much more room for freedom. I could write an entire novel in the time it took me to write a few short stories, so the time investment also points toward the novels.

    Yup, I’m definitely a novel girl.

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    • Exactly. It doesn’t feel worth it to spend so much time on such a short piece. For me, that time could be better spent fleshing out a novel. Thank you, Sushi!

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  2. I enjoy different things about both.

    With short stories, it’s easy to write, read, revise, write, read, revise, write, read, revise . . . as many times as it takes.

    With novels, each re-read takes time, time, and more time ~ when I’d rather be writing.

    So, I’ll put it this way ~ I like writing novels and editing short stories. 😀

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  3. I prefer short stories where concision is the rule rather than the exception. Keep in mind that though I say “prefer,” I have never attempted to write a novel nor would I—unless you consider a novel-length collection of short stories a “novel.” Don’t get me wrong, I like to read novels, but it ends there.

    You are right Maggie. It is hard, or can be difficult at least, to boil a story down. I consider an essay or story “short” if it is 5,000 words or less. I typically write essays and stories that average 1,500 to 2,000 words in length. These are the easiest for me to write being relatively new to writing. Longer than 2,500 words is more difficult as it requires a great deal of effort to maintain continuity, coherence, and interest. Less than 1,000 words is just as difficult, but requires succinct language and is the true work of a master who can pull this off.

    Short stories cannot tell an entire story nor is that their intent. They are but a slice that, if done right, can leave the reader feeling as full and satisfied as is they just devoured an entire novel. In some of these, character development and description is the overwhelming flavor of the piece and in others, the reader tastes only a hint of character while receiving a full helping of setting and place. In my opinion, plot matters less in this form of art as it is more about the character or the narrator and how they choose to taste life. Because of all this and more, the short story has captured my heart; this is why I love her.

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    • Oddly enough, it’s easier for me to write a short story that’s under 1,000 words than it is for me to write one that’s between 1,000 and 5,000.

      I’ve never felt as “full” from reading a short story as I have from reading a novel. But I would rather have plot neglected (or less plot) in favor of better character development.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dan!

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      • Yes, I know it’s not everyones thing, but if I may, perhaps you may have not read a “good” short essay/story yet?I can plumb and wire a house (something I’ve picked up over the years), but just because I can does not make me a master. If you are interested, here is one from the online magazine Brevity to sample and here in an excellant one from a fellow blogger posted today which I believe makes my point. Either way, I’ll shutup now and thanks for listening.

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        • That might be true… to tell you the truth, I can’t even name the last short story I read. Thanks for the links! I’ll give them a try.

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      • This conversation made me go do word counts of my stories, which I usually don’t do. When you write for the web, it really doesn’t matter that much. I discovered that the shortest is 6,000 words and the longest is 13,000 words (well, there’s one I know is a novella that’s 27,000 words). So, definitely on the longer end of the short story spectrum. I had the idea of publishing two of them as a slim volume, but now I’m wondering how slim a volume it would be. 🙂

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        • I always do a word count, just for my own reference. I’d think that when writing for the web, everything ought to be a bit shorter due to people’s limited attention spans. 😛

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          • Hey, for me, 10,000 words _is_ really short. 🙂

            Seriously, I do try to keep the story moving, I don’t do a lot of description (I learned a lot from listening to radio drama), and there’s always a mystery (or two, or three) to, I hope, keep the reader hooked. Plus I try to do the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin thing, where the detective and her cronies are interesting even apart from the mystery itself.

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  4. This is something I’ve thought (and written about) quite a bit, since I started with novels, and am now writing short stories (but short stories that are in a series, mysteries with the same core characters — the detective and her companions). I have always thought short stories are a harder form, for the reasons you list.

    As for #3, creating new characters or re-use old ones, I talked about that here:
    http://u-town.com/collins/?p=84
    http://u-town.com/collins/?p=85

    Everything I write, novels and short stories, continues with the same ever-expanding cast of characters. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

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    • I just read both your posts and I completely agree. Usually, the more I write about a particular character, the more stories about her life I discover and want to write about. Characters don’t just grow stale unless we fail to adequately develop them.

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  5. Great post! I think you have some really good points, and the subject is actually something I’ve been considering lately, too.
    I write novels and flash fiction of under 1,000 words. I can’t seem to do the traditional short story length. My ideas are either complex and takes a novel length story to explore, or else they are sketches so to speak – something that is meant to be delivered in few words. I never seem to get any ideas that fit in the middle.

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    • I’m the same way, although I sometimes suspect that some of my novels could easily be shrunken into novella form (or at least a long short story).

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  6. I always try to think of my chapers in a novel as individual short stories. They’ve got to work by themselves and as part of a team… Works for me anyway.

    But I do agree with you, short stories take real talent and practice! I think they’re important to write and develop through because the skills do come in useful for a full novel.

    Great post, Maggie. Again!

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    • It’s hard for me to make a chapter into a short story where it can almost stand by itself. Yet another thing I have to work on… Thanks, Huge!

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  7. I love short stories very much may be because that’s what I have been teaching all these years. But each time I come back to the same story I discover something new, especially in the stories of writers like O. Henry, Oscar Wilde and Saki. I feel well written pieces are concentrated forms of novels, the magic of which will be revealed only gradually. I feel the characters develop and attain new dimensions after each reading. We keep on giving new interpretations to the words.
    Well, that’s what I feel for the time being, but I might change my opinion once I start reading more novels.

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