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Saturday, 21 February 2015

IS THE SHORT STORY YOUR FIRST STEP ON THE WAY TO WRITING NOVELS? A REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE.

Some writers don't go near short stories. They just dive straight in and write novels.
   There are advantages to operating that way. I've read novels by authors who were firmly in that camp. Those stories worked.


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Novels and novels alone. Nothing wrong, beginning over there. But I didn't start out on that path.
   First, there was this view that I might sit down and write non-fiction.
   The fever passed.
   Second, there was the idea that I'd finally work out how to write novels...after I read a lot more of them...after I read a lot of short stories...and after I wrote short stories.


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An early attempt, as an example. Reader walks down a hallway, looking at paintings. Each painting is a short story. Items in each story link, along this gallery. By the time you reach the end, you've read a novel that is also a collection of short stories. The reader is sucked into the last story, at the end of that artistic hallway.
   Modest Mussorgsky was an influence.
   But that project mutated into another book, before long. 


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There you go. When I speak of graduating from writing short story to writing novel, yes...I REALLY took it literally.
   So I'm here to talk about creating a novel from that viewpoint. This is old ground. Start small, build up. Do more of that building. You'll reach a mystical turning-point.
   Initially, these micro-stories will be jokes. Very quick plot. Fast opening. Not much middle. Resolution. Minimal character-development. Nothing to accomplish but grab your audience.
   The kind of thing you can do, these days, on Twitter.


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Mystical turning-point?
   Mini-stories move beyond a few paragraphs. You write twist-in-the-tale scraps. Stories with obvious twists that depend almost entirely on some bullshit you set up in the first line OR on a play on words in the closing sentence. Consider yourself advanced if you attempt this...
   Stories with obvious twists that depend almost entirely on some bullshit you set up in the first line AND on a play on words in the closing sentence.
   Eventually, you write a longer story. We'll say you scribble 5,000 words. Your story is self-contained, with hints of more to come. Almost feels like a chapter in a book.


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That's you. On your way. Keep telling stories in the same setting, or with the same characters, and you'll have enough of those excerpts to string into a series. There's your novel.
   Not really. But...really.
   If you are going to write a novel in chapters - and that's by no means right, wrong, certain, desirable, or undesirable - then think of each chapter as a short story.
   Not necessarily self-contained. If you take a chapter and examine it in isolation, it may not make sense once devoid of context. That's okay, and that's not what you are looking for when you check a chapter in isolation.
   You are checking to see that SOMETHING happens in that chapter. When you wrote short stories, you didn't have space to fuck around...so, by fuck, something had to happen.
   Make sure, playing in a larger sandbox, with more than sand, that something happens in each episode. By all means, develop themes, expand on characterisation, fill out that story.
   Sink your teeth into description, exposition, atmosphere, and all the rest.
   Treat the novel as a gathering of short stories in a queue. They might bunch up or spread out, but they are all in the queue for a reason. Your readers are sticking with the story for a reason.
   If that reason is just to get to the fucking end of the story because, fuck it, I'll be damned if I let this bullshit fucking book defeat me, then I'll go out on a limb and call that a bad thing.
   I've read those hyperbole-magnet award-winning tomes that, er, aren't really about anything. No, I won't name names. Taste is taste.
   If you start with short stories and then write novels, don't get lost in the need to create a longer form. Those chapters are still short stories.
   Yes, you'll develop different storytelling techniques as you go along. But...and this goes for all writers, no matter the path...don't lose the plot in the words. Or, indeed, in the shrubbery.


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Mayhap you are sitting there, saying to yourself, well, I've never written short stories...and I'm about to embark upon a novel that isn't even written in chapters...this all sounds like bullshit to me.
   My response is simple. Read the first paragraph of this blog post. Go and write your novel.



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