Why I Write Both

Right now my work schedule is complicated.  I’m writing a short story on a relatively tight deadline, while I’m also forging ahead on Wolf’s Search (aka, Firekeeper 7).

The other day, a friend asked me which I liked better, writing novels or writing short stories.  The truth is, I like both about the same.  This is not the case for all writers.

Short and Long

I have friends who write novels to pay the bills, but their hearts are given to elegantly crafted short stories.  One writer I greatly admire works best at novella to novelette range.  Several writers I know can’t write short to save their lives.  Even a novella is a struggle.

For me, novels are great because they give me room to explore complicated intertwining stories.  Even when I write long – and I’ve written novels in the 200,000 word range – I don’t write “fat.”  I ruthlessly prune my prose so that even descriptions serve more than one purpose – such as giving both dimension to a character and details of an economy in the description of a meal or an article of clothing.

So, for me, writing a novel isn’t an exercise in being lazy, in not having to make every word carry some part of the story.  A novel is a place where I can tell more complex story, often one involving multiple people, each of whom has his or her own agenda.

This is one reason I find the recent emphasis on Main Characters or “MC” that has been cropping up in a lot of writing quizzes and prompts very frustrating.  To me, every character should feel as if – if you were given a chance to find out more about him or her – they would be the protagonist of their own story.  But I wander off topic.

So, why do I write short stories?

Every writer I know usually has more ideas for stories than time to write those stories.  Sometimes when I get a cool idea, I realize it will fit beautifully into a novel I’m working on.  More often, however, the idea will need its own story.  My first decision is whether that story will be short or long.

Simply put, there are ideas that are best served at a shorter length.   My “Unexpected Flowers” (recently published in Asimov’s) is under 2,000 words.  I could have turned it into a novel, perhaps an elaborate bit of literary fiction full of footnotes and clever cross-referencing as the alternate universes became more and more elaborately differentiated.  However, I don’t think it would have been a stronger story for more length.  It might well have been weaker.

In the last month or so, I have scribbled down at least three new ideas to explore when I have more time.  It’s possible one of these may become a novel, but I don’t think so.  Each one strikes me as the sort that will have more punch if told at shorter length.

Do I set a length limit when I start writing?  Usually not.  Sometimes an invitation to write for a specific project will come with an upper limit as to how long the story can be, but in those situations part of my brainstorming is coming up with a story that can be written within those assigned limitations.   If I feel the proposed story spiraling into more and more complexities, then I either put that story idea aside for another time, or I refine.

Now I’d better get back to writing.  I’ve been working on the novel earlier in the day, then the short story in the afternoon.  That may well switch, but for now, it’s a system that’s working.

Catch you later!

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2 Responses to “Why I Write Both”

  1. Louis Robinson Says:

    I think that MainCharactermania that bothers you is a response to the current state of the market: a lot of people seem to be going monomaniacal, and they expect their entertainment to be the same.

    I don’t know if you’ve spent much time in either Baen’s Bar or David Weber’s own forums, but I’ve been repeatedly flabbergasted – and this has been happening for years, now – by the, ummm… intensity with which some people complain about the way that Weber and Eric Flint, in particular, waste their time writing unimportant side-stories featuring insignificant characters, which result in totally unforgivable delays in producing the next “main-line book”. And when they get that book they wax even more vituperative about the author’s failure to concentrate exclusively on the Real Characters, leaving half the pages cluttered with irrelevant people, places and events. And then there’s the rumblings, particularly with DW, greeting the news that the author has done the unforgivable and devoted his attention to Some Other Series!

    Both these gentlemen have MAs in History, so creating their own very real histories comes naturally to them. The issue is, or appears to be, that many people don’t believe in, or at least aren’t prepared to be faced with, anything smacking of complexity. Or even difference, for that matter: another major gripe is the use of place or personal names that aren’t straight from the Home Counties. Often, ironically, from people whose ancestors never set foot in said counties 🙂

    • janelindskold Says:

      This is fascinating. Thanks for sharing. I don’t tend to hang out on forums… There are just too few hours in the day, so I wasn’t aware of this trend.

      I am aware that among my own readership there are readers who read only one series, but that is something I’ve seen with other writers as well.

      Watching Roger (Zelazny) do a signing was a good education in how very rare it is for an author to have fans, rather than a particular series or work. A good education for me as a then new writer.

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