OpenFiction [Blog]

Genre – Novels are the wrong way to learn to write

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on July 20, 2005

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I wish that writing short stories came more naturally. I’ve written them, and will almost certainly write more, but they are not the most natural form for me. Like many novelists, I tend to fixate on particular characters and themes, and so it’s difficult for me to create new worlds and new characters, and it feels like a waste to go to all the effort for ten or twenty pages. In the novel, I cover three different eras of the main character’s life–an adolescent period, an early adult period, and the present time of the story, in which he is in his early thirties.

That being said, novels are just the wrong way to learn to write, and I’d suggest that anyone learning to write not attempt a novel until they’ve written quite a number of short stories. There’s just too much invested in a novel, and writing skills (at least mine) develop such that after about eight or ten chapters, I could already feel a change in the quality of the writing. If I’d written ten short stories, I’d have just thrown out the first four or five. With a novel, I had to circle back and rewrite the early chapters, which I’ve done about three times. I’ve also gone back to add a prologue to the novel, all of which has made the writing and the learning probably more laborious than it had to be.

Stories also provide practice at writing all the way through a story line–my case completing the arc of a profluent plot. Writing out the novel as a short story–and having complete a number of other stories–provides me a sense of confidence that as I move the story forward, I won’t get lost. I don’t have the whole novel plotted out in any detail, but I know enough to gauge where I am in the story’s progression, to recognize the right direction to be heading, and know when I’m getting off track.

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