I just read an article on the Mythic Scribes forum that was complaining how many new writers want to jump right in and write an epic novel (this IS a sci-fi/fantasy writer's forum) with no experience... suggesting maybe newbies would be better off sticking to the short story for a few years before taking on a novel.
I've also sat in writing classes and listened to instructors say that short stories and novels are two entirely different creatures, and that the short story is actually harder to master.
So my question is, when you first started writing, which path did you take?
Look at it this way, if a friend said he was going to take up mountaineering and in the next sentence said he was off to climb Everest, what would you advise.
Writing a novel is one thing. Getting it accepted for publication is another. Short stories can be just as problematic simply because of the lack of outlets. Alternatively, there are thousands of periodical magazines that every month, need articles to fill their pages. OK, it's non fiction and articles require research, but this is WORKING as a writer and to many who want to be a writer, work seems a dirty word.
Think of it this way, if you can't write an article of 1,000 words that is good enough to get published when there are, as stated, thousands of magazines looking for stuff, then how the hell do you expect to get a 100,000 word novel published in a limited market?
As proof, look at the biography of many novelists and see where they started. Terry Pratchett writing an obit' column in the local newspaper and so on. If you want to be a writer, work at it.
Online? Informational and product writing. It's where the money is.
Offline? Short stories and poetry. Less of a big goal. Working on my first book now though.
The short story is harder to write than the novel or large work of fiction or non-fiction if only because the writer is obliged to make every word count. The setting the scene, the challenge or problem whatever it might be, the build up, and the ending all have to be pruned and pruned again so that the minimum of words still tell the maximum of story message and emotional-wise.
My suggestion would be for the budding writer to practice first writing essays, even in-depth letters to friends - then short stories for a year or three - before engaging on a really major undertaking of 80,000 to 120,00 words. You really do have to love writing before taking on such a job. Also, you need to have developed a 'style,' and this only comes with a lot of practice. A famous author once wrote that it takes the writing of around two million words before one really develops a unique style. But back to short stories vs longer works.
Unlike the longer work where the writer can put in 'asides' or ramble away with some snippet of their philosophy of life, the short story can only show this in the words chosen. And yet the short story can be every bit as powerful as the larger work - sometimes even more so. Some years ago I wrote a short story called Korean Christmas. You can find it here on Hubpages. It'll give you an idea of what I mean.
Of course, even the short story is surpassed by a really in-depth poem. I'm talking real poetry here, not limericks where all one is doing is matching sentence endings with similar-sounding words. Poetry, is the ultimate in saying much with so few words. But to reitterate, short stories are harder to write than longer works.
It will be radical to start from a short-story and then slowly transform into a novel. If you plan to write it first-off, you might flunk in between your pursuit....
I must admit, as a reader, that I find the vast majority of short stories extremely disappointing, apart from those written by true masters of that genre such as Somerset Maugham.
On the other hand, I find novels can be bearable, even when rather amateurish.
I think the problem is that it is difficult to crystallize something worthwhile into the space restrictions of a short story, if you do not have true talent. A novel gives the author room to build up characters and situations
Most short stories leave me with feelings such as: "And..... ?", *Shrug*, "So what..... ". They have a tendency either to be totally devoid of plot, or else to present a silly little anecdote that could have been told in two sentences.
I've had the same response to a lot of short stories. It seems like it's really hard to make everything come together at the end and feel complete. I can't say I've read many novels that left me feeling like that. And I've read some pretty lame novels too... but they were still better than the failed short story. I thing you are right.
I think in the old days the idea was to get a bunch of short stories published, build up a portfolio, then write a novel and find a publisher or agent based on your success as a short-story writer. Some writers could make money off of their short stories while waiting for their break as a novelist. I'm not so sure that's the way to go anymore, especially since self-publishing is no longer a dirty word for serious novelists.
The advice I got six years ago when I decided to write a novel was to write what I want to write, and not worry about writing things I don't want to write. So, since I don't especially care about short stories I skipped that step. You have a lot to learn either way, and I suppose in some ways it's easier to make mistakes with short stories than a 150,000 word manuscript. In my case I think I would have wasted a lot of time writing short stories I really wasn't interested in. No matter what you do it's hard to get published.
All my novels started as short stories. And my short stories started as novels. The latter came first though. I would have grand ideas of stories, and then slowly, I learned that sometimes less is more, and those planned novels, turned into short stories. Some could still be lengthened, but the details of them haven't comet to me, and so I am happy with them as they are.
My Goblin story (as I call it), started as a one page story, then I decided it should be a trilogy, then decided it should only be one book. However, as I got to the end of it, I realized there was something missing. Something huge missing. I added one character and suddenly the book became three again. While I have only finished the first installment of the trilogy, I am nearly finished with the second, and have started the third. This would be the Doppelganger Prophecy Trilogy (The first few chapters of each of the books are in my hubs).
My other novel I am working on was only meant to be a writing exercise to get my creativity flowing. Then all of a sudden the sword sliced into his leg and it was a full novel waiting to be written.
I think writing both is beneficial. They both have different lessons of discipline that can be learned. I think it is good practice just to write. Start off just describing a scene and see where it takes you.
Having just finished my first novel of a respectable length, I would have to say that experience COMES from writing, rather its a short story, a novel or a letter to Grandma. In all the advice I have received as a new novelist, the advice that comes resonating loud and clear is just to WRITE, REWRITE and WRITE some more. I think most novels start out as short stories, and as the story unfolds, the writer finds the need to expound on the storyline, thus journeying into the deeper waters of a full blown novel. Those who critique the harshest started out with one word, one chapter and or one short story before they ever achieved any notable respect as a writer. So, I don't think it matters so much WHAT you start out with, as long as your ultimate goal is to improve your writing with each new word.
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