5 Tips: Should You Write a Short Story or Novel?

adult book book store bookcase

Should you write short stories or work on a novel? Some say the difference between a short story and a novel is in the pacing. Are you a sprinter or a long distance runner?

Even though a short story and a novel have many similarities, such as characters, dialogue, plot, etc., there are aspects that a short story must have that a novel can live without. You can be looser when writing a novel, take your time building suspense, revealing information about the characters, and meander your way to the ending. The short story writer doesn’t have this freedom. Every sentence counts. The short story is an art form. It needs special skills and talents on the part of the author that novels do not.

And then there are novels-in-stories. My last two books, The Crystal Ballroom (2017) and The Usual Story (2018), are novels-in-stories:

‘While the short story pauses to explore an illuminated moment, and the novel chugs toward a grand conclusion, the novel-in-stories moves in spirals and loops, a corkscrewing joy ride.’ – Danielle Trussoni

Here are 5 tips on whether you should write a short story or a novel from Elizabeth Sims, Writer’s Digest

1. DURATION OF STORY
Obviously, the short story is short; the novel is long. But while short fiction typically ranges from 1,000–5,000 words, there’s another kind of length to discuss: time frame. One of the most prevalent characteristics of a short story is a concentrated time frame. A few hours, a day, a week. A short story that spans years or generations risks leaving the reader unsatisfied.

The novel, on the other hand, is the ideal form for a story that is literally extended in length. If you want to explore the effects of time on your characters, the novel is the more suitable vehicle.

So consider: How much time might your story require?

2. NUMBER OF CHARACTERS
Counting characters might seem simplistic, but actually it’s one of the best criteria for determining the scope of your story. If your cast keeps growing as you flesh out your plot—let’s say you’ll be portraying a large family, or a complex group—then a short story won’t serve. You simply don’t have room in 2,000 or even 7,000 words to draw more than a few characters effectively, giving each one enough presence for the reader to keep them straight, let alone relate
to them.

On the flip side, beware of relying on just a select few characters to carry a novel. On one hand, you’ll be able to develop those characters deeply, but on the other, you’ll risk losing readers who are restless for quicker pacing.

What about point of view? In a novel, the number of points of view is up to you. For short stories, it’s sensible to stick with the classic single POV, either first person or third limited. Briefer stories can also work well with the POV shifting between two characters, but when you get to three or more, the varying perspectives can dilute the power of the story.

3. PLOTS AND SUBPLOTS
I once had an editor advise me, as I was revising one of my early novels, to add more characters. I played around with the idea. As soon as I’d decided to add a few fresh faces and give them something to do, I realized that what my editor had really asked for was more plot.

Ding. More characters equal
more action.

Most short stories have but one plot. The very best, however, have what I call a plot-and-a-half—that is, a main plot and a small subplot that feeds in a twist or an unexpected piece of business that adds crunch and flavor to the story as
a whole.

Consider how much plot you’ve got worked out so far. Does one plot strand, or perhaps a plot-and-a-half, feel just right? Or is your story straining to bust out and explore territory you haven’t seen yet? Which leads us to …

4. THEMES
Coincidentally, when I got the assignment to write this piece, I’d been rereading Anton Chekhov’s short stories. My copy, a sublime little clothbound volume issued by the Modern Library in 1932, features marginalia written by previous owners. In the blank half-page after “Grief,” a story about a bereaved hackney driver and his callously abusive passengers, someone wrote, “Second-lowest man has one job in life: to keep the lowest man down.”

Now that is an incisive reading of the story. One vest-pocket-sized tale was all the great Chekhov needed to pierce our hearts with that truth. Just like Chekhov, in a short story you should be trying to get at one or two poignant aspects of being human. In a novel, you can create characters, let them loose, follow them and see what they do. If you feel your story will be more a journey than a statement, you may be leaning toward a novel.

5. COMMITMENT
Writing a novel could take a year or more, and whether you publish it or not, it’s a huge investment of time, energy, and mental and emotional strength. If you feel you’ve got a novel on your hands, consider these most important questions:

Do you lie awake thinking about your story? Do your characters come to you at odd moments and stand silently, waiting for you to do something with them?

Are you fully committed to doing whatever it takes to pour out your best? (It bears mentioning that in order to get your best, you often must pour out your worst—and be willing to toss it all in the trash one day.)

Are you afraid of wasting your time on something that might not succeed? (Everybody is.) The real question: Will fear turn you away from this task, or will you push through fear, risking failure but opening untold possibilities?

Will you be sorry if you don’t have a go at it?

Elizabeth Sims adds, ‘Whichever form you select, novel or short story, you should work with joy, with passion and without haste. And hey, you can always change your mind. Writing is a journey.’

For further reading, check out my posts Writing Is Like Becoming a Sushi Chef and Writing Tip: Use Your Obsessions. And to make sure not to miss anything from Libby Sommer Author you can follow me on Facebook  or Instagram.

Writing Tip: Small Fictions

 

Libby Sommer with her book The Crystal Ballroom in book store
At Harry Hartog Bookseller

I love writing small fictions, also known as hybrid fiction:  flash, micro fiction, prose poetry.  The form is gaining in traction and you can enter your stories in various competitions like the New Flash Fiction Review.

‘New Flash Fiction Review has chosen to honor master storyteller Anton Chekhov through holding an annual award for excellence in flash fiction— or as they might have said, back in Chekhov’s time, “very short fiction”. Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian playwright and short-story writer, who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history. Chekhov’s mastery for saying a lot with a little makes him one of the flash fiction’s spiritual inspirations. Over one-hundred years before the term “flash” was invented, Chekhov himself was writing short stories in under 1,000 words, stories such as “After the Theatre”, “A Country Cottage”, and “Bliss”. In 1886, Chekhov wrote in a letter to his brother, “… you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.”’ – New Flash Fiction Review

My small fiction titled Undulations was first published in Quadrant magazine. Hope you enjoy it.

Undulations

So we’re sitting in Melbourne in a vegan restaurant reminiscing about our school days spent mucking-up in the back row and Jane (her hair still red, short and frizzy, like childhood) remembers daring me to ask our fourth-grade Geography teacher how to spell ‘undulations’.  What?  “Because I wanted to write her a message,” Jane says.  “An unsigned message saying, ‘The way you run your hands over your boobs to demonstrate undulations is disgusting,’ but didn’t know how to spell it.  So I told you that if you were my friend, you’d ask her.  You know how she always said to speak up if we couldn’t spell something?  For some reason she wrote the word down on a piece of paper, rather than on the blackboard.  Maybe she thought you couldn’t see properly from our eyrie.  So you got back to your desk and passed it to me under the chair.  I wrote in my best handwriting, ‘Your demonstrations of undulations are gross,’ blotted it carefully, and placed it furtively on her table after the recess bell had cleared the room.  When we filed in after lunch, I saw her open it up.”  Jane taps me on the arm enthusiastically.  “What happened then?” I say.  “Was she angry?  Did she think it was me?  Did I get punished?”  How forgetful was I?  Jane had mastered the art of getting the ink from the inkwell to the pen nib to the paper—no ugly blotches—her cursive as good as a professional engraver’s.  Even after all this time, she still prefers a fountain pen and has a proclivity for setting wrongs right.  “She threw the chalk in the bin, reached for her cardigan and draped it over her shoulders,” Jane says, grinning.  “Yes, that’s what happened.  And she didn’t demonstrate undulating landscapes on herself or on any of us ever again.”

Copyright © 2018 Libby Sommer

Or you can study this growing-in-popularity short form by getting a copy of Best Small Fictions by Sonder Press:  ‘The Best Small Fictions is the first ever contemporary anthology solely dedicated to anthologizing the best short hybrid fiction published in a given calendar year.’

“If you are a writer of any kind, this book is also a must read because it will only enhance and inspire your own work, particularly through models of stellar openings/endings and meticulous editing.” — JMWW

 

3 Parts to a Great Blurb

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Your book’s blurb is crucially important. But writing a blurb is harder than we think. A great blurb is short and sweet, gives away enough of what’s inside the book without giving any plot spoilers. It draws the reader in.

‘A three-act structure. You want to catch the reader’s attention, give them the content, and then give them a reason to care.’ – Author Unlimited

Have a look at this YouTube video by international best-selling self-published Romance writer Alessandra Torre. She tells a terrific story of how she went from 3 book sales a day to thousands by changing her blurb:  The Blurb Equation – How to Write a Kick-Butt Blurb.

 

The Blurb Equation (Alessandra Torre)

INTRO + HINT + CLIFFY

 

1. PART 1 INTRO:           the characters or situation is introduced.

2. PART 2 THE HINT:     what the story is about, the conflict or climax.

3. PART 3 THE CLIFFY:  what’s going to happen? Hooks the reader.

Alessandra says to keep the blurb short. More than four paragraphs is too long . Three paragraphs of two to three sentences is best. Don’t give away the plot.

Keeping all this excellent advice in mind (although I’m not a Romance writer), I’m continuing to sweat over the draft blurb for my new book THE USUAL STORY, due for  July release by Ginninderra Press. Please use the comments section to give any constructive feedback. I’d love to know what you think.

It’s especially difficult for me to write a satisfactory blurb for THE USUAL STORY because it is really a collection of connected short stories. I’ve linked the stories by using the tango dances and dancers, the painful ending of a brief romance, and the main character’s search in her past for answers.

Tango is the dance of passion, forcing partners into an intimate relationship. Sofia loves the tango, but at the dances she must face the truth of her ageing in our society that has very little use for anyone who is not young.

In the painful aftermath of a brief affair, Sofia goes in search of what she actually knows about herself and the past. As she looks for answers in dark corners, we begin to see, as does Sofia, the elusiveness of understanding and memory – the psychological space where recollection and loss collide.

If you liked The Crystal Ballroom you’ll love this book: a story of memory, intrigue and passion.

 

I hope this Blurb info is helpful. Do you have any tips you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.

 

 

 

Enter Writing Competitions

 

the city of Lisbon, Portugal with sea and sky in the background
Lisbon, Portugal

One of the ways we can get noticed as writers is to enter writing competitions. You can join local and international writing groups and associations that send out newsletters letting you know when, what and where to enter.

I can’t remember entering this particular competition, or where I saw the information, but I am thrilled and delighted to tell you that an excerpt of my WIP, Lost in Cooper Park is a runner-up in 2018 Disquiet Literary Contest.  There were over 1,000 entries. I have been awarded a partial scholarship to attend the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon, Portugal. Such exciting news.

The judges said of my entry:

“… an excellent domestic psychological drama, reminiscent of Sally Vickers (The Other Side of You) written in beautiful, striking prose. It has an incredible memorable opening. The author has a voice that is unique to her and that, at the same time, is particular to the narrative. The story moves between places and narratives with deftness, knowing precisely when to leave a thread open and when to pick it up again.”

Whoo hoo.

I recommend staying up to date with competition deadlines. This keeps you motivated to finish a piece of writing by the date specified. Subscribe to writing groups and newsletters that alert you to closing dates. I am a member of the NSW Writers’ Centre, Society of Women Writers’ NSW, Australian Society of Authors, and other writing groups on Facebook.

Wishing you the best of luck.

Woman walking through Cooper Park with her dog.
Cooper Park

 

A Hammam in Marrakech

 

Some consider a hammam to be the ultimate Moroccan experience.

A hammam is a steam bath where you wash yourself down, sweat out the dirt of the day and then scrub, with an optional massage afterwards.

Because I’d heard the scrubbing can be a bit too strong for fair sensitive skins like mine, I chose the massage-only option. I’d had a good scrub under the shower back at my riad.

My massage at La Maison Arabe in Marrakech (pictured above) was the most luxurious massage I’ve ever experienced. A big strong woman used scented oil to massage every inch of my body (apart from the privates) – around the stomach, around the breasts, all over the place. It was SOOO relaxing and very sensual.

‘In past centuries hammams were the only source of hot water in the medina. Traditionally they are built of mudbrick, lined with tadelakt (satiny hand-polished limestone plaster that traps moisture) and capped with a some with star-studded vents to let steam escape.’ – Lonely Planet

For many Moroccans hammams are as much a social occasion (particularly for women) as they are about bathing. In some of the public hammams non-Muslims are not accepted. Or you can go to a private hammam.

‘Public baths were first introduced to Morocco (and the rest of Africa) by the Romans and adapted to fit in with Islamic ablution rituals – foregoing the communal Roman bathing pool to use running water to wash under instead – after Islam gained a foothold across the region.’ – Lonely Planet

On my 5 day visit to Marrakech I stayed at Riad Daria in the Kasbah. A perfect calm retreat from the chaos of the souks. The souks are the medina’s market streets, criss-crossed with smaller streets lined with storerooms and cubby-hole-sized artisans’ studios.

riaddaria
Riad Daria in the Kasbah

Riad Daria is an authentic riad with a courtyard garden divided in four parts, with a fountain in the centre.

So here I am back in France on my month long writing-retreat-for-one after a short visit to Marrakech needing to concentrate on WIP again. Who knows? Maybe my trip to exotic Morocco will inspire me to write a book about loneliness, madness, love and existentalism like ‘The Sheltering Sky’ by Paul Bowles.

 

theshelteringsky

“How fragile we are under the sheltering sky. Behind the sheltering sky is a vast dark universe, and we’re just so small.”
― Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky

description

“Paul Bowles masterpiece reminds me of some alternate, trippy, version of Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night, but instead we see the other side of the Mediterranean. Tangier and the deserts of North Africa take the place of the South of France. A different love triangle exposes different forms of loneliness, madness, love, and existential expats.

The thing I love about Bowles is he brings a composer’s mind to writing. His novel isn’t propelled forward by a strong plot (although it has plot) or attractive characters (none of the characters are very attractive), but the music of his language alone pushes and pulls, tugs and compels the reader page after page. It felt very much like I was floating limp and languid in Bowles prose as his hypnotic sentences washed over me and drifted me slowly toward the inevitable end.” – Darwin8u, Goodreads.

Hope you too get to travel to exotic places for inspiration and rejuvenation.

Writing from Within

Trees and shrubs leading to glass door of Brahma Kumaris Centre
Brahma Kumaris Centre for Spiritual Learning

I’m running a writing workshop this Saturday at the Brahma Kumaris Centre for Spiritual Learning in Wilton, New South Wales. It is part of the Society of Women Writers Retreat weekend. I’ve titled my course ‘Writing from Within’ because the aim is to tap into the right side of the brain, leaving aside that nasty critical left side, and really getting to the heart of what you want to write. I’ve run workshops like this before. Usually I use a combination of meditation techniques, and a guided colour exercise for relaxation and then spontaneous writing, or timed writing. It’s truly amazing what people write when they are able to get into the zone and not be held back by negative thinking.

These are the rules of timed writing according to Natalie Goldberg in ‘Writing Down the Bones’:

  1. Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.)

  2. Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.)

  3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)

  4. Lose control.

  5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.

  6. Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)

Should be a excellent weekend featuring publisher Catherine Milne and presentations from authors Emily Maguire, Susanne Gervay, Kathryn Heyman, Libby Hathorn, Beverley George.

book cover of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

I’m A Writing Workshop Junkie

red book cover of The Mindful Writer by Dinty W. Moore

‘A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’ – Thomas Mann

Even though I’ve had many of my short stories published, plus a novel, and a second novel accepted, I’m always wanting to learn more about the writing process – especially the link between creativity and spirituality.  Four weeks ago I enrolled in ‘The Mindful Writer’,  a course devised and presented by  Walter Mason.  Highly recommended.  He combines the insights of meditation and mindfulness with the joy of creative writing.

‘Tap into your true creative thinking through mindfulness and become aware of the vast reserves of wisdom within.’ – Walter Mason

Dinty Moore, in his book The Mindful Writer, Noble Truths of the Writing Life, says his lifelong pursuit of writing and creativity has helped to open him to the path of Buddhism:

“Find inspiration and insight on writing as a spiritual practice through astute quotes, thoughtful advice, and productive exercises on both mindfulness and craft.  This isn’t your typical “how to write” book. Author Dinty W. Moore, a well-respected writing coach and teacher, thoughtfully illuminates the creative process: where writing and creativity originate, how mindfulness plays into work, how to cultivate good writing habits and grow as a person, and what it means to live a life dedicated to writing. The Mindful Writer features bite-sized essays that will delight and inform not only writers, but also other artists, mediators and mindfulness practitioners. Built around heartening quotes from famous writers and thinkers, it is a resource that readers will turn to again and again for guidance and encouragement.” – Simon & Schuster Australia

On the never-ending path of learning more about the craft of writing, I also enrolled at the Blogging University (yet again) and took the WordPress course  Writing: Shaping Your Story – an intermediate course on the art of revision:  four weeks of self-editing and rewriting.  Dig into the process of focusing and building a story, whether fiction or nonfiction.  Lots of useful information.  And the course is free :).

So back to my desk now and to the work of crafting a new novel.