Cool? Now, let me slip in to something a bit more… ahem…comfortable.
I am relatively new to the writing game. Sure, I’ve written hundreds of stories growing up like most kids, but I only really started taking the craft seriously five years ago. That said, I’ve learned so much it would be a crime not to share. (Check out some of my older works here.) When I get an idea (Man, I should do a post about the crazy ways I get inspiration while I’m at it) I usually decide whether or not I should gun for a novel, or instead make it into a short story.
Short stories (about 50,000 words or less–and this includes novellas, novelettes, and flash fiction) is definitely a valid way to go with some stories. It allows the author to focus on character and plot, and details tend to take a back seat. Now this isn’t at all a bad thing. Sometimes as an author you build a world from scratch, and other times you use existing worlds to make your own. If I’m writing a short story about a kid who misses the early morning bus to school, it does me no favors to describe the bus’ engine is agonizing detail.
In my experience, unless otherwise asked, short stories are the perfect writing sample for when you want to show others your writing style. In sometimes in as short as 1,000 words (flash fiction), you can draw on your character’s drive, “voice”, as well as show your ability to tell a story.
There are drawbacks however. Short stories (even as a collection) are harder to sell. Not saying you should just be writing for the money, but I’m assuming you at least want people to read your work when you are finished. There are short story collections, but compared to novels they hardly get the same amount of shelf space at the bookstore unless it’s a collection from an already established author (Stephen King and Elmore Leonard come to mind).
Also artistically, you run the risk of leaving your customers with an “unsatisfying” conclusion. Now, satisfaction is personal, but deciding where to end a short story is crucial. I liken it to double dutch jump rope. You jump on, do your thing, and have to jump off without hitting the ropes, sort to speak.
Novels on the other hand (at least 50,000 words but usually around 70,000) are longer pieces of work. You can go in depth with your characters and plot, but you have the bonus space to go into themes and details. If you want to establish a character’s life as boring before becoming amazing when his dog turns into a superhero, you could spend literal pages about the main character’s preference for oatmeal for breakfast, dates with his stamp collection, or his love of just staring into a wall at hours on end. Sure you have to move your work along with the plot, but you can paint a more detailed picture of the world, and that is key.
Usually when you get representation, your agent would usually ask for a long form sample. This is to determine whether or not you have the literary “stamina” to write a 150-300 page manuscript while maintaining the integrity of your characters and the story you put them in.Because of the length, the prospect of writing a novel can be difficult. An idea you thought could go three hundred pages or even a series of books could just as easily run out of steam on page seventy-five. There you have a choice: Press on, clip some ideas into a short story, or trash the story all together.
This guy ends up doing a lot of the third. Sorry, I’m a tortured artist that way…lol
Hey-yo, I hope this helps on your writing journey. It’s November so you know what that means? NaNoWriMo. It’s my second go, wish me luck.