Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What Are Short Stories, Exactly?

Short story versus novel
Two nights ago I wrote a short story. It was a first draft. Yesterday, I rewrote it after I blogged. Then last night, I went to the Barnes & Noble Cafe, ordered an Iced Tea and rewrote that same short story five times. Something hit me while I was doing this: there is a distinct difference between writing short stories and novels. However, as clear as that epiphany was, the actual difference was something that still eluded me.

I decided to do some research on the topic because it is becoming obvious to me that I need help. One thing is clear to me: a short story is not a short novel. Unfortunately, that's what I think I have been writing this week.

The Big Differences Between Short Stories and Novels

On his blog, The Ranting Room, Bruce Bethke described the difference between the two types of writing as follows:
Speaking in sweeping generalizations now, a short story focuses on a single event that either changes or provides some insight into a single person, a small group of people, a situation, or an institution. A novel reveals a vastly wider and deeper story.  
Christopher Anderson described the difference on Articlesbase as follows:
The short story gives glimpses of lives and events; whereas, the novel or novella encapsulate entire lives and multiple events. 
In an interview with HuffPost, T.C. Boyle discussed the joys and drawbacks of each of these two types of writing:
The joy of the story is that you can respond to the moment and events of the moment. The drawback is that once you've completed a story, you must write another even though you find yourself bereft of talent or ideas. The joy of the novel is that you know what you're going to do tomorrow. The horror of the novel, however, is that you know what you're going to do tomorrow. 
I'm starting to get a sense of where I've been going wrong...

First Draft - Telling My Story Too Quickly

Initially in my quest to start writing a short story I focused on word count. The two contests that I am looking to enter are both flash fiction contests, so we are talking super short (under 750 words). Since this was my primary focus, what I wrote was a super short novel. There's a story there, maybe even a full three act structure (though the acts are lightning fast), but after each read I was faced with the reality: it lacked the energy and power of great short stories I have read in the past.

Then Emphasize the Details

I decided that I wasn't adding enough details and description. My story had a beginning, middle and end, but it was missing some richness in the telling. I dug through looking for ways to describe economically. I had to chop an entire paragraph of other narrative to add in descriptors everywhere else, but I thought it was worth it.
Getting back to basics

I read it again, something was still wrong.

Where's the Character Development?

There is a tiny cast of characters in my story, so I should be providing my reader with a clear picture of who they are. I was not. Above all I think this is my greatest weakness at this point. In fact, I think the problem has been staring me in the face: Right now my story is about something, not someone and I don't think that's how most short stories work.

Now What?

Now I am going back to my writing. I am going to rewrite my story again. I don't know how many times I am going to do this, but I don't mind. I am learning. I think the hardest part is going to be picking which version of this story should be sent out into the world when I am finally done!

Thanks for reading!
How would you define the difference between short stories and novels?
Do you have a favorite short story writer?
Do you write short stories? Why or why not?


Additional Finds:

1 comment:

  1. Lisa Buie-CollardMay 17, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    I've always had a harder time writing shorter pieces and now, with this explanation and information I think I know why. This post was very well done, a short story in itself. Thank you. I got a lot out of this.