Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Smaller Beasts Aren't Easier to Tame

Everyone’s gotta start somewhere.

“You have to start with short stories!” cry the influx of People in Publishing. At least, that’s what I’ve heard and read numerous times. Writers are “supposed” to shimmy in short stories before they even think about writing a novel…right?

Well, yes and no. Novels and short stories are completely different beasts. It’s like learning a primary language (elementary writing), becoming bilingual, (writing short stories), and becoming trilingual--writing novels. You think you know what you’re doing (because it’s all writing, how hard could it be?) but the words churn and the cursor flashes and you’re not quite sure what you stumbled into. Wait—that would be me.

I wrote novels before I wrote short stories. Short stories, in my experience, have tight story arcs, a short time for character development, short time frame, and a whap-boom ending. It’s difficult, and most agents aren’t interested in short story collections. So why bother?

It’s simple--I love contests. I’m a competitive person, and since writing is primarily a solo activity, this is the only way I can fulfill the craving to push myself past my limits. Last fall, I entered The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards of 2009 with a short story. I thought I had no chance at winning—but I did. In March, I received a Gold Key in the NYC Regional category for “Found in Lost.” Clutching my large envelope, I hollered and boogied all night. Shameless plug: The Strand Bookstore will be holding a reading of NYC Regional Gold Key winners’ work (including mine!) on May 5th from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

This award won’t help me impress agents, as it’s for teens and I’m competing with adults in the querying process. It won’t make my friends acknowledge my hobby the way a shiny trophy would. However, it does make me thrilled and glad to be a teen writer.

So would I recommend starting with short stories if you’re thinking of writing novels? No. Write what you want to write regardless, and learn from it. If you want to write short stories, by all means, enjoy yourself and best of luck. Just don’t write shorts expecting to have tea with the editor of the anthology. Write them for the story that needs to be told, and who knows? The story might just need a bigger home in a novel.

What about you? Do you think short stories or novels are easier to write? Have contests helped you network with agents and editors?
For more information on The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, please visit www.artandwriting.org

The Strand Bookstore reading will be at 828 Broadway (at 12th St.), New York, NY. For more information, please visit www.strandbooks.com under Events.

1 comment:

Sage said...

I think novels and short stories are both difficult in their own way. Plotting a long novel and taking the time for that many words is a challenge. But so is getting a plot and character development all in a short amount of space. They are two different storytelling modes that appeal to different people for different reasons. I suspect a lot of people think that short stories are easier because they are shorter. They must take less effort, right? But just like writing tighter, plotting tighter is also a challenge.

For me, short stories are more challenging than novels. I like the story and character arc that's developed over 50+ words. I don't think I could portray characterization as well when I'm writing shorter. Surely a problem with my abilities as a writer, but there you have it.

I'm not quite sure who decided that new novelists should publish short stories first, but they are different skill sets, and I don't think that you being able to do one directly translates into an ability to do the other well. Then again, it doesn't mean you can't do both well either.