Ruminating On: The Long and Short of It

I have several author friends who are having problems moving from short form to novel length material. I figured I’d see if I could help them out. No worries, I’m not going to mention any names, but I am going to mention some of their problems and try to offer my advice on how to overcome said issues.

#1. I just don’t have enough time during the day.

If you have time to write short stories, you have time to work on a novel. Instead of dashing through a story, sit back and take a breath. Let’s say you prefer to write flash fiction. How about, instead of writing a thousand words or less on a short, you take that time and add to a larger body of work. Forgive me, for I can’t remember who said this (I think it was either Stephen King or Neil Gaiman, or it very well may have been Stephen King talking to Neil Gaiman) but the quote is as such: If you wrote three hundred words a day, everyday, for a year, you’d have a rather sizeable novel on your hands. Being a novelist takes training, much like marathon running. Short stories are taxing as well, and require a special brand of info dumping, but they’re more like a sprint. You have to make a choice and stick with it.

#2. I just can’t seem to make the story last long enough.

There’s your problem right there. You’re trying too hard. Just getting to know your characters can take up thousands of words. Short stories rarely give you the chance to do this. Some of us can eek in character development in only a few short words, but that takes practice. Word choice is paramount. Honestly though, if you don’t want to take the time to get to know your characters, you probably shouldn’t be telling their stories. Many times, I have written a short story only to find that I hadn’t delved deep enough into the players on the stage. As with my sophomore effort, Dastardly Bastard, my group of tourists started out small and two dimensional, until I really took the time to get to know them. What started off as a 25,000 novella soon blossomed into a 65k effort, simply because I took the time to listen.

#3. I love short stories, both writing them and reading them, but they don’t sell well.

This is Grade A truth. In my mind, short stories are nothing but advertisements for your longer books. Consider it brand building. I do not recommend publishing a short story collection unless you have a novel to fall back on. There are two reasons for this. Drabbles and flash fiction just do not hang around long enough. Think of it in the way of food (sorry, I’m on a diet, so everything’s food related right now). A short story is a snack. A novel is an entire meal. A snack is all well and good between lunch and supper, but it’s not going to stay with you. I know quite a few readers who jump into collections between books just to cleanse their pallet. They don’t want to start something thick again so soon after finishing the last novel, so a short story or two are in order. The second reason is good old fashion frugalness. Why spend your hard earned money on several pieces of pie, when you can buy the entire dessert for the same price. This is why one of my collections is free and the other is only $.99. It’s all about preconceived value. Even if your short story collection is three hundred pages long, the stories inside are not. You’re novel could be fewer pages and I promise you, it would sell better. I also believe this is why some people enjoy a series over stand alone books. If the same characters keep returning, the reader’s money becomes an investment.

These are simply my thoughts and tips; things that worked well for me and continue to work to this day. I started out as a short story author and worked my way up, so I will always see shorts as practice, like fun on the side. And no, I don’t feel a bit bad when I’m cheating on my novels. We have a very open relationship.

I’m going to go into greater detail on the hows and whys of short form and long form in future posts. Maybe I’ll make a mini-series out of it.