Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 9 July 2014

Long-form fiction and short stories: Vive la difference

My latest author pic
by James K Barnett
Last week, I finished a novel. This week, I’m writing a short story.

I write in a lot of different mediums. I generally don’t write projects back-to-back, but, right now, I’m exceptionally busy.

This short story has been scheduled for a while, but they usually come out pretty fast, and more-or-less complete. I generally write a five thousand word short story in two sessions. Of course, that’s after the ideas are formed and I’m ready to write. 

Ideas for stories of all lengths often form over quite long periods of time. I like to collect ideas and I like to give my mind time to do its work on those ideas. There are surprises. What comes early in the writing often informs what comes later, but that’s truer for novels than for short stories.

The process is something else.

Writing a novel is very different from writing a short story. There’s room for movement in a novel, scope for ideas, themes, sub-plots. There’s room to breathe, to play. There’s time, too, lots and lots of time to work on a novel. There are weeks or months of living with the thing, of developing it and changing my mind about what it could or should or might want to be.

Short stories are special in there own way, though. I love the constraint. There’s actually something liberating about concentrating the focus, sticking to the point, making every word count for something, and of doing it fast. A short story takes hours, days, maybe a week, writing one is almost an ephemeral experience. It’s there and gone before there’s time for it to become something else, part of my life, a burden.

Today, I forgot that. I got halfway into the word count on my short story. I finished my first writing session, and I’d barely begun to tell my tale.

I’d enjoyed myself, but I read back what I’d written and realised that I’d been writing the story as if it was chapters from a novel. There were too many redundant words, too many distractions. There were asides. Minor characters had crept in that weren’t necessary to the plot. It wasn’t that I’d lost my focus, exactly. The thread of the story was strong and solid, like a rich vein.

All it took was for me to remember that I was writing a short story, and to remind myself why this particular idea was right for this form, and I was back on track.

An hour with the text was all I needed. I stripped out the dead wood. I cleaned everything up, and I had a much neater, fresher, tighter story. I also had room in the word count to finish it.

I like this story. I like that I was invited to write it. I like that the husband likes the first chunk. I like that it’s moving fast, that the atmosphere is bleeding through. I like that it’s spare. It’s just a tale, a simple, linear, no-nonsense tale.

I’ll let you know when it’s published. I hope you’ll like it too.

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