Novels. Short stories. Pick your poison.

In my youth (yes, I’m 29, but you know what I mean), I only read novels or novellas, never short stories. I am convinced that this is mainly due to the culture I grew up in. In western countries, attention spans of readers are shorter so they need shorter stories. Reading is a hobby, it should be fun. In my country, reading is a life style. Acquiring stacks of books in one’s living room may not be the norm anymore (it certainly was in the time of my grandparents) but we still take books seriosuly. Very seriously. Too seriously, to be honest. I’ve been given novels to read since the day I could read. Yes, I learned to read from comic books (about two years before we officially learned letters in grammar school) but I switched very quickly to 100-page books (for a five-year-old, those were novels; I think it took me two weeks to get through one; I usually read more than one at the same time.) It wasn’t long until I was reading the classics: Jack London, Jules Verne, Karl May (maybe I was 10 before I delved into the Vinetou monster), basically everything that I found translated to my native tongue.

To me, reading a story should be about becoming a part of that world, getting to know the setting and characters intimately, spending a considerable part of their (and my) life with them. When I finally got my hands on a short story collection, things were different. Yes, they were interesting characters. Yes, they usually involved intriguing situations. But before I could truly immerse myself into that world, the story would be over. Starting a new story, I had to discard everything I have learned about the world and had to start from an empty board. That particular detail was incredibly irritating.

All this leads back to my writing. I find it more fulfilling to write a short story than to read one but still I always find myself checking the word or page count when I do it. I’m paranoid about my short story evolving into a novel if I let my guard down. That’s not the writing I like. It sounds too much like a school project where you had to write a specific number of words to make a cognitive statement. The biggest essay of my high school had to be between 4k and 5k words. To most people, that is pure torture. I barely got warmed up at that point.

I tried (and still do) to write short stories because I’m an adult now and time has become a different thing. But, to be blunt, I suck at it. The only reason I try writing short stories is because it’s finished quicker, editted quicker and can be read quicker. The one short story I finished turned into a novella (Clockworks Warrior) but now I know it’s only a part of a greater story I am obliged to write some day.

Don’t expect short stories and flash fiction from me because you won’t get it. What you will get from me is epic novel series which unfortunately take time. LOTS of it. Speaking of which, it’s time to get back to that particular activity. Ta ta.

6 thoughts on “Novels. Short stories. Pick your poison.

  1. Actually, I thought of something else. I do occasionally use short stories to try out certain themes I focus on in my novel, and it does kind of help me decide how I like to present those themes. This doesn’t, however, change the fact that I don’t tend to finish anything I write. And I still prefer novels.

    Coincidentally, my current novel-in-(eternal-)progress is also part of an ‘epic novel series’! Guess we have that in common too. I await your magnum opus with bated breath. I wonder which of us will finish first? (Ha, probably you.)

    • Oh, I don’t know. I’d been very successful in keeping myself away from people but that has changed remarkably in the last two years. Now, I tend to spend far less time in a room alone, sitting in front of a computer.

      One has to have a life, otherwise the stories might get boring.😀

    • We should start a “Put the End to that Neverending Novel” support group or something. =) I think I’m pretty much in the same boat as you when it comes to finishing almost any story I start.

      • Aha, not a bad idea! Though sadly our kind doesn’t care much about external stimuli. I think it’s all about discipline and motivation. But I tried forcing myself into writing and ended up hating it for a time. Stick rarely works on oneself. Maybe it’s time I try carrot. Hm, how to reward myself for finishing a chapter…

  2. The novel poison for me too, please.

    I did have some exposure to short stories growing up (we had a SF/F publication that occasionally put together short story anthologies), but I struggled with the same issues you had — not enough time spent with the world and the characters. So by not being much of a fan of short stories, I don’t think I ever got a good feel for their “beat,” nor do I have much desire to try my hand at them.

    I’ve heard that writers tend to be strong either at short stories or at novels, and very few can do both well. It seems to me that short stories are usually written around a point — world building, character development, even the level of immersion are generally tailored (and trimmed) to serve this one point. I think that a way to put it would be that short stories are usually about the destination, while novels are more about the journey there.

    Me … I find that the shortest I can go and still have fun (the reason I write) and end up with a somewhat readable story (here’s to eternal hope!), is about 20K — firmly short novella territory. I feel it gives me time to play with the world and the character without having to branch out into complex plots and subplots and multiple layers of themes. Nevertheless, I’m happiest with full novel length. What can I say, I like my subplots. =)

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