Short vs Long

I’m currently trying to write a short story. This is the first time I’ve done this in nearly six months and the last time I tried it was the same story. From this you may deduce that things are not going as well as one might hope.

It’s a truism that writing novels and short stories are two different skill-sets, but the last few years have really brought that home to me. I cut my teeth on short stories. They’re where I (started to) learn the craft. Also, I like them, both as a reader and a writer. A good short is compact, self-contained and satisfying.

However, writing short is a knack I may have, if not lost, at least submerged under the slightly different skills necessary to produce a book a year under contract.

I’m too close to the problem to analyse it fully, but one aspect of my situation rather surprises me. I have the sense that, given I only have 5K (ish) words to get this right, I’d best get it right first time. In other words, writing a short story is giving me license to revise as I go, a habit I indulged in but had to break myself of before I started to make serious headway with novels (achieved via NaNoWriMo back in 2006 as it happens).

At one level I agree with the tactic my subconscious is currently employing. In a good short story, every word counts. Or to put it another way, you can’t get away with as much – wordage, description, scene-setting, OK-but-not-sparkling prose – as you can when writing a novel. So I can see the need to sort the current paragraph before I move on to the next one. I’d be wise to build this house from the foundations up, not put in a frame and nail everything place later.

Which is all very well, but given I’ll be starting on a new novel next week (of which more later no doubt), there’s a distinct risk that in six months time, or whenever I next have a break between longer projects, I may well be in the same situation, quite possibly with the same short story.

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