Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tie Me To The Length Of That And Gag Me With Excessive Verbiage

Yes, I know the title is longer than the attention span of a politician listening to a constituent that isn't waving a bunch of Benjamins in their face, but unfortunately, it's a new phase that doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.

Last week, I asked a question of everyone who dabbled in the written word what was less aggravating to write, a short story or a novel, or other types of the written word that one would dabble in. While I got a few answers in the comments, I held off on offering my own opinion on this particular question until today.

Over the past five and a half years, I've written (and attempted to write) both novels and short stories. Not at the same time mind you, for if you chart out my writing path, it went something like this:

'05 thru early '06, novel; early '06 thru late '09, short stories ranging from 5K to 30K words; mid '09 thru present, novels; and mid '11 to present, short stories.

Even though I have spent a total of four plus years writing short stories, up until the beginning of this year, I still thought that writing novels were on the whole, less aggravating to write that short stories. After all, a short story was basically this:

1} a snapshot of a place in time.
2} a limited word count, usually 5 to 7K words.
3} and you had to create a good beginning, a decent middle and a satisfying end in that same word count.

So anything that had that kind of restriction in place must be seriously aggravating to write.

Yes, I really had that kind of mindset.

Whereas a novel was basically this:

1} a movie of a place in time.
2} no limit for a word count, but informally about 75K to 90K words.
3} and you had to create a good beginning, a decent middle and a satisfying end in the same word count.

So to me, that meant it was easier to write because there were really no restrictions on what you could do.

However, beginning in the Spring of this year, that mindset of mine flipped 100%. I now find that writing a novel is a hell of lot more aggravating writing than writing a short story.

With a novel, you start of with a basic idea or premise, say having a woman late with her payments to her uncle the loan shark*. Then you have to create a path for that premise, in this case she has a week to get all caught up. Then you have to create a vehicle in order to successfully travel and arrive at the destination, which in this case she decides that the only way that she can get the money needed is to work in adult movies. Then you have to fill in the various gaps with different characters (a dimwitted bodyguard and a conniving boyfriend), throw a story long swerve (has a symbiont for a sister), and create a few subplots (conniving boyfriend wants to rob girlfriend, sister wants to become a real person, main character wants to reconcile her values with having public sex) along the way. And don't forget that you have to juggle all of these things at once and make sure that they ALL HAVE A SATISFACTORY RESOLUTION AT THE END.

It's more than enough to make you want to take your beverage of choice and pour it all over your computer keyboard, fry out the computer and become a telvised talking head.

Now with a short story, the parts are pretty much the same as a novel, but you have less stuff to juggle. Just like with a novel, you start with a premise, say, a day in the life of a musician**. In this case, the premise is the story, so you fill in the gaps, by showing the musician getting ready for the show, and then the show itself. Perhaps you throw in just a tiny bit of a background so that you can tie all the characters together in one fell swoop. And depending on what kind of story you're writing, lengthwise, you can constrict or expand as you see fit. So you can wind up with a story that clocks in under 1500 words*** or a story that can clock in under 22K, depending on what the plot idea might be and the detail involved.

So after completing two novels (one self-pubbed) and struggling to complete a hybrid/human fantasy and a normal fantasy, as well as writing a total of approximately 70 short stories (with two published normally and the bulk published on a closed blog), I can safely say with confidence that writing a short story is hell of lot less aggravating to write than it is to write a novel. Think I'm kidding?

Last example: I had mentioned that I got an idea about three weeks ago for a short story. From seed to completion, it took me exactly twelve days to write. It also spawned an idea for a second (got about three pages written already) and a third that will hopefully turn out to be a smartly written trilogy. If this idea was for a novel, I doubt I would've gotten 5K words written in one month, let alone twelve days. It would've taken me twelve days just to come up with a usable outline, let alone accomplish any actual writing.

*Line 21 is the novel that I'm currently shopping around, this time for a publisher instead of an agent. **Red Stripe is my second published short story, link can be found on the front page. ***Cedar Mountain is my first published short story, which the link can also be found on the front page.


  1. That's neat, G. Keep on writing!

  2. time for each phase of writing. Hope you get that deal

  3. That's pretty fast. I think with short pieces we just move faster as writers because there is less space.

  4. My twisty answer is: I currently think writing poems is the easiest thing! But the more stanzas you add, the more difficult it is to match meter n rhyme scheme. Same for stories, because those parts need to fit too!
    Of course writing song lyrics is easier than poems, until you have to overlap the tune perfectly, n find a bridge!

  5. I've been writing with the idea of putting a book together but I always end up writing short stories. I like to capture snippets of life, not tell a continuous story.

    Anyway, keep up the good work!

  6. Darth: Time is definitely a factor. Novels can truly be a major inhalor of time, whereas a short story inhales it with an eye dropper.

    I'm hoping to land a publisher within a year or so. It's gonna be a tough go, but there's enough of them out there that I'm bound to find someone who will take an interest.

    R: For me, most definitely. When I was going through my flash fiction stage, I was cranking out a story in about five days or less.

    Even with my last published short, it took me about a week to write.

    Less space does have a tendency to make you move faster, especially if you put yourself on a limitation (say two to four pages) to begin with.

    Snaggle: I always thought writing poems and song lyrics were extremely hard to do.

    I know nothing about writing poems, but I can definitely see where it would be problem if the length becomes long and the topic complex.

    Same goes for lyrics. I think I tried writing a song exactly once with an ex-friend. I did the lyrics and he did the music. It was something that I found very difficult to do, if only because I didn't have a clue in what I was doing.

    Joe: If you're writing short stories, perhaps you could string them together into a novel if they have a common theme to them.

    Doing snippets, I think, is a great way to feed the need of novel writing.

  7. I think from my previous comment on the topic you know that I agree with your take here. Absolutely.

  8. Charles: It really is interesting in that I'm finding a world of relief in writing short stories.

    I'm going through a lot of aggravation in my personal life right now, and because my latest novel project is of a different tone than what I'm feeling, the short story is the perfect outlet for me.

    At the moment, I'm having fun writing something with lots of violence (and almost no sex) and again expirementing with a few genres that I may not have otherwise looked at before.


Go on, give me your best shot. I can take it. If I couldn't, I wouldn't have created this wonderful little blog that you decided to grace with your presence today.

About that comment moderation thingy: While yes, it does say up above I can take it, I only use it to prevent the occasional miscreant from leaving thoughtless and/or clueless comments.

So remember, all of your comments are greatly appreciated and all answers will be given that personal touch that you come to expect and enjoy.

G. B. Miller

The Legal Disclaimer

All the content that you see here, except for the posting of links that refer to other off-blog stories, is (c) 2008-17 by G.B. Miller. Nothing in whole or in part may be used without the express written permission of myself. If you wish to use any part of what you see here, please contact me at