I’ve been writing short fiction for over forty years. However, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I gathered the courage to try my hand at writing a novel. I wasn’t sure what to expect, really. I’ve read other takes on it from both experienced and novice writers, but it seemed to me that everyone’s experience was different. For me, I discovered there is a vast difference between writing a short story and writing a novel, and it’s not just word count.
Because I’ve written short fiction for so many years, I thought that I’d apply that to the first draft of my novel. Basically, I’d approach writing each chapter as if I were writing a short story. Makes sense, right? I figured that would allow me to write it a piece at a time, then string each chapter together.
What I discovered is that chapters can’t be written like short stories. While they do have a beginning and end (in a way), they aren’t self-contained. They need to be fluid and connect front and back to the neighboring chapters. Not surprisingly, my first draft was a mess. The chapters were clunky and didn’t flow well. It was like reading on a road covered in speed bumps. There was a short, smooth patch, then BUMP…next chapter.
To me, short stories are like mini-novels. They are snippets of a larger world, but they fit neatly into a smaller package. There’s a beginning, an arc, and an ending, all within ten to twenty pages (more or less).
They also present their own challenges when it comes to writing. With a novel, a writer has hundreds of pages in which to develop character, plot, backstory, and perform world-building. There’s room to stretch, to pace oneself, and the ability to gently guide the reader along the chosen path.
With a short story, the writer is working within much tighter constraints. That’s one of the things I enjoy about writing short fiction. The challenge of trying to tell a story on a limited canvas.
Because I’m used to working on a shorter leash, I found it difficult to write when I had so much leeway and so much space to fill. I was struggling to let go and be more descriptive, to take my time and let the story unfold at a slower pace. It was a strange experience.
After finishing that horrendous first draft, I took a second swing at it. This time I allowed (forced) myself to explore the space. The second draft was better. Not great, but an improvement.
That’s when I decided to take a break. I went back to writing short stories for a while. Back to my comfort zone. I think of it as a palate cleansing. I tried to take on the big meal challenge. Like going to one of those restaurants where, if you can eat the ten-pound burrito, you get your picture on the wall and a lifetime supply of antacids. Or something like that.
I took the challenge and eventually got a decent draft. But I needed to step away to get some perspective. Now I’m ready to tackle that beast again. I’m going to finish my novel this year and hopefully have it ready for publication by December. And yes, I’ll self-publish again. Probably. I’ll see what kind of feedback I get from the beta readers.
With the novel back on the burner and a short story collection in the works, I’m going to be churning out a lot of words this year. Coupled with my painting and other creative endeavors, that’s going to keep me from getting into too much trouble. I hope.
Wish me luck.