The Rhythm Of Narrative (I Ain’t Got Much)

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2014 at 10:00 am

One of the things I was asked to talk about, back when I was soliciting topics, was the different rhythms of short stories and novels (thank you Brainwane at Dreamwidth!). Though, admittedly, this may be a short post, because I’m absolutely crap at writing short stories. It ties, in a great part, back into the difficulties that come with transitioning from fanfic to original work. I can write the hell out of a short fanfic, but a short story is nearly beyond me. Novel or nothing, it appears.

The major difference, at least for me, between a short story and a novel is the level and speed of worldbuilding. Worldbuilding is one of the few things fanfic won’t teach you, or at any rate won’t teach you well, because you’re writing in a world that already exists. Writing alternate universes helps, but you’re still using familiar characters or familiar settings, you’re still getting a helping hand from the fact that people who read your story have a contextual awareness they wouldn’t otherwise have.

Learning not to depend on a shared context with your reader is tough — and learning to build a world without it, in less than ten thousand words, is incredibly hard. Of course there’s some context, especially if you set your story in the world as we know it today, but you’re still trying to sketch out personalities, relationships, positions, situations, all in the space of a very few words and without resorting to clumsy, boring exposition. Most of my short story attempts are a lot of clumsy, boring exposition. It’s a flaw.

But then, some people haven’t the staying power for novels. Some bastards can do both, proving life is very unfair.

Not having written many short stories, I don’t know nearly as much about them as I do about writing novels. Mind you, I’ve only written a handful of novels, but they take a lot longer, and when you edit a novel you’re editing so much more. I feel like I can confidently talk about writing novels, if asked, but short stories…those are a mysterious thing. Even having read a great deal of them, they can be elusive. I’ve just finished reading one volume of HP Lovecraft’s short stories and begun on another, and while he is a big fan of somewhat clunky exposition, sometimes it just flies by. The man certainly had his issues, but I wish I had his flair for making exposition so glossy.

Part of it, too, is what interests the writer as a writer. I like to climb around in the stories I tell, explore side-paths, touch on the consequences of actions, add flourishes that don’t strictly speaking need to be there. Sometimes that stuff has to get cut for the final version, but some of it always stays in. It’s what gives a book flavor, to me, as a writer. Short stories have to be smoother and cleaner; there’s not a lot of room for decoration, and the flavor has to be packed in alongside everything else. That’s a very particular skill, and one I’ve never had reason to learn.

I think, sometimes, that I should write a book of short stories, but I’m saving that frustration for some other year, when the rest of life is a little easier. No use compounding trouble with pain.


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