Today I'm delighted to introduce Blaine D Arden to the blog. I met Blaine at the UK meet last year and spent a very nice time chatting with her over drinks and breakfast. Today she's here as part of a blog tour to promote her new release Aliens, Smith and Jones, and is talking about the differences to her in writing a long book and short story. Over to you Blaine!
Going Long or Short
The difference between writing shorts and novels.
When my publisher suggested this topic, I couldn't help but smile. Because Aliens, Smith and Jones, when I first started writing it, was supposed to be a short story. But when I had just reached 10,000 words—give or take a few—in came this blind date, and I found myself writing a full blown novel. Of course, the story I started out writing wasn't quite what Aliens, Smith and Jones ended up being. It shifted focus, became something that needed way more than the 20,000 words I'd planned to be told.
So, what is the difference between shorts and novels for me? Well, I named one already.
But focus is not just one thing. For instance, when I write a short story I'm am as deeply involved with my main characters as I am with a novel, and yet, as I write, a word count goal will always be in the back of my mind.
With a novel I'll do a lot of free writing during the first draft, of which some scenes will never see the light of day, but I need those to immerse myself into the world. I don't edit until I've finished the first draft. And in that edit phase, because I know how the story goes from beginning to end, I'll be even more deeply immersed in the world, and can see much more clearly which scenes I really don't need in order to tell the story.
With a short story, most of the immersion will take place in my head. I'll edit scenes as I write. I might even rewrite them a couple of times before moving on, or come back after writing other scenes, because I know something needs to be added or changed or moved to another scene. I write much slower when working on a short story, and I often feel as if my first draft and first edit are the same thing.
The characters' journey.
With a short story, I focus on a few central events that need to happen and build the rest of the story around it as concisely as possible. Time-wise, their journey can be as long as a novel character's journey, but I'm much more strict in which part of their journey actually makes it into the story. I don't free-write as much, don't let my characters veer off on a tangent as much. As soon as a character starts mumbling about wanting to visit his cousin in a neighbouring village, I have to interrupt them, because in a short, that visit isn't integral.
In a novel, that visit might just be a break point in the story. He might see a photograph of the boy he's dating and realise he's been cheated on. So, with a novel, I sometimes deliberately let the characters take their time to get from A to B to C. I give them the space to find their way and let them lead me to where they feel they need to go. Sometimes, this leads to dead ends, sometimes this leads to events that I never could have thought of when I was still developing the story. And I love it when that happens. (Though, I love it even more when it all comes together during the edit phase.)
While I often start both a short story and a novel in the middle of an event, there is more time to introduce the main players in a novel. I have twenty plus chapters in total (maybe even thirty plus) to divide between the beginning, the middle, and the end. I don't have to mention both main characters in the first chapter, I can wait for chapter three to make that happen, and they'd still have plenty of time to get to know each other and work their way through the middle to a happy ending—and solve that murder, of course.
With a short story, however, I have maybe nine chapters, tops—not that short stories are necessarily divided in chapters, but for the sake of this post they are. Nine chapters is too short to have one main character walk in during chapter three. That leaves far too little time for some believable romancing. No, with a short, both characters need to be introduced in the first chapter. It's often not the first time they've met, though. No. I like to think they met before that, or have known each for a while, and that first scene, that first event, is the catalyst to push them even closer. The sooner, the better, and the more time they can spend together throughout the story.
I've found there's very different pacing in the middle of a short story and a novel. It has been mentioned already, but this is where most of the veering off on tangents happens in my novels. Well... in first drafts anyway; by the time I've edited, I will have taken all the tangents out and have left only essential material. Or, at least, that's what I aim for. The middle of a novel starts later than that of a short story, and lasts longer. This often leads to more than one sub-theme, sub-event, to accompany the main one, and more threads to tie up nicely when I move towards the end. In a novel, the middle is also a good place to introduce a twist... or two, or a background character that turns out to be not so background after all.
Twists are not unheard of in short stories, but time is much more of the essence there.
So, should I go long or short?
That's not a hard question to answer. I like writing both, definitely. Both are challenging in their own ways. I love how I can just let my imagination run free when I'm writing a novel. I know that way of writing doesn't work for everyone, but it works for me, and despite having to throw a lot of scenes away during the edit phase, I always feel I get to know my characters very well during those little tangents my characters go off on when I'm writing my first draft of a novel.
While I'm very good at locking my inner editor up when working on a novel, there is a strange sort of balance between writing and editing when I'm writing a short. I can't even say I write short story first drafts, because by the time my first version is finished, I'll have already edited quite a lot of it. I wouldn't call them finished products either, not by far, but first drafts... no, not quite.
Ideally, I should try and build a rhythm of short, long, short, long. But it never quite works out that way. And that brings me to one more difference: As opposed to novels, most my short stories come into existence after reading submission calls for anthologies or line calls. I read them, a spark of inspiration hits me, and I'll be mulling and plotting and thinking about how to fit that spark, that idea, into the confines of the call. It almost seems like an extra challenge on top of the short length.
But ultimately, do I have a preference? No. I like them both in their own way. And I just let my inspiration guide me.
Blaine D. Arden is the author of Aliens, Smith and Jones as well as The Forester and The Fifth Son. She can be found on Twitter (@BlaineDArden) or on her website at http://www.blainedarden.com/. Her most recent works are published through Storm Moon Press.
Thank you, Blaine, for that fascinating insight insight to the different ways you approach your writing!