Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stories & Novels: How different are they?

Gary Phillips’s guest blog last Sunday still has me thinking about short fiction.

As a high school teacher, I’ve read and studied short stories of all types for years (you can cover more ground in a literature class using them as opposed to novels). But I've never wrote them. Whenever anyone asked why, I explained that I just never saw my stories in such a condensed form or (and even less articulate) that nothing I wrote “ever seems to turn out that short.” If you believe that the shorter the form is, the more difficult it is to write, then maybe I just wasn’t good enough. All I know is that my first attempt at fiction was a novel. It was the story I had in me at the time. After that, I moved on to the next story, CUT SHOT.

But I sold an essay this fall, and lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about short fiction. My former professor (and a Type M guest blogger) Rick DeMarinis, author of THE ART AND CRAFT OF SHORT FICTION, once said, “Some people are novelists, others are poets, others are short-story writers. Some are all three.” I’ve always wondered about that, thinking of Raymond Carver’s stance on the subject. (Carver once took an advance to write a novel, couldn’t, and gave the money back.)

I know that much of this discussion hinges on the story one is trying to tell. Not all stories can be told in 5,000 or 10,000 words. But aside from that, I’m curious to see what others think. Not all novelists write (or at least publish) short fiction, too, and vice versa. But could they? Or are they, as Rick said, novelists as opposed to short-story writers?


Dana King said...

Some probably are short story writers or novelists, and some can do both. Short stories are hard for me in the conception. When I get a good idea and start to play it out in my head, things tend to get added until I realize I have too much story for the vessel, and I know it won't work. My thought patterns tend to run to longer forms.

I do seem to all right with flash fiction, building just the germ of an idea out to 600 or 800 words. I think it's the in-between length of the short that gets to me.

MTCoalhopper said...

Short stories seem a good way to get noticed. I am actually proud of my rejection slips. It's not like I wrote 500 pages and got turned down.

On the other hand, you gotta crank out a lot of market-worthy shorts to pay the bills. I've been working for two years on a series of short stories, and have yet to see a dime for one of 'em. Maybe when I can put them together into a novel-length collection?

Would that automatically mean a longer work is more marketable than a short one?

Vicki Delany said...

Good question, Coalhopper. There are very, very few writers who make a living exclusively from short stories. Of course not many writers make a living from writing novels either, but the short-story ones have it even harder. Good luck to those who can do it. In Canada I think of Alice Monroe, and that's about it. Most writers I know of began with a book of s-s and then moved into novel length fiction.

Rick Blechta said...

Canadian crime short story writers Peter Sellers and James Powell work exclusively in short form. Find their stuff. It's really quite fine.