Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Over The Fence: On Writing Short Stories vs Novels

The other day I was outside when my neighbor called to me over the fence. He and I don't talk a lot so I was not sure what he wanted. However curiosity got the better of me and I meandered over.

"I hear you do some writing," he said.

"Yes," I said, "I've published some work."

"Well, I'm thinking of writing a book and I wondered if you could help me out."

That got my attention. If there's anything I can spend hours talking about, it's writing. "Sure, what do you need to know?"


"Well," I said, "that narrows it down some." I couldn't help but smile.

"Seriously," he replied, "I've done some technical writing for my company, but I've never written fiction. Surely, there are some basic rules and guidelines."

"My best advice is that first and foremost, you should have an idea of what you want to write."

"I want to write a mystery novel."

"Well, a lot of writers start out with short stories. There aren't a lot of paying markets, but there are tons of online magazines looking for material. If nothing else, it will help you build a writing resume for when you finish the novel and start seeking an agent to represent you."

"Do I need an agent?"

"No, but they have something most new writers don't have."

He looked a bit skeptical. "What's that?"

"Contacts in the publishing industry. Many agents worked at various publishing houses before setting out on a career as an author's representative. But that's a bit premature, lets talk about writing something first. The agent will come later."

"Okay. So what's the difference between a short story and a novel; other than a bunch of pages."

"Well, it's really not all that complicated," I said. "Let's use an analogy."

"Okay." He leaned against the fence and I knew I had his interest.

"A short story is like robbing a liquor store."

His brow wrinkled. "Really?"

"Yes, there isn't a lot of time for plot or character development; so like a liquor store heist; you get in, get the loot and get out fast. A novel on the other hand is like robbing a bank or an armored car. It requires a lot of planning and time."

"I get it. In a short story you need to get to the point fast; whereas in a novel you can spend some time developing the story."

"Exactly." I glanced at my watch. "I have to run some errands. Tell you what, why don't we meet here again tomorrow and we'll discuss plot."

He smiled and said, "Sounds like a plan to me. See you then."

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