Sunday, September 06, 2009

Short Story v. Novel

It has taken me a while to figure this out, but here it goes. When writing a short story, I rely on my unconscious mind to write the story. In the editing process, I shape it into something more concrete, often editing it a dozen or more times. Every word goes under the scalpel.
You can't do this in a novel. You'd spend years writing it this way. Your unconscious is not going to come up with an entire novel. You can't edit a novel into existence.
So you have to either outline or have a pretty great memory. Thus far I haven't outlined my WIP, so I think it's still going to read too episodically. Does this happen to you and how do you deal with it? When you sit down, what percentage of what you're about to write is already in your conscious mind? How much of the time do you fly by the seat of your pants?

17 comments:

Clair Dickson said...

When I write novels, I start with little more than an initial event-- client and case, usually-- and work from there. At some point, I get an idea (or 7) on what "really" happened. And I work towards it. The closet I come to 'outlining' is jotting a very rough sequence of events , but usually I just work it over in my brain until I get there.

I wouldn't consider myself having a great memory, but I do make a lot of notes. And, one thing I do in my novels is little reminders-- "Lisa, the missing guy's last girlfriend-- was there when I arrived"-- sort of thing. It provides a reminder for the reader and for the writer, who has trouble remembering what she went downstairs to get...

And yet, most of the time, when the story is being written, the words seem to just come to me, barely registering in my brain before coming out the fingers.

George said...

Back in Third Grade, my teacher Miss Morcome, taught us how to outline. We outlined reports, journal entries, letters, and stories. So it just comes natural for me to whip up a quick outline for anything I'm going to write no matter how long or short it is. It's just an organizing device that clarifies thought and saves time.

David Cranmer said...

I spent six hours in a car yesterday driving and plotted the entire short story in my feeble mind. I reached a computer and made some initial scratches and it will now take another month or so to write it. I could never do that with a full length novel. I would need a outline of characters, plot etc.

Dana King said...

I do fairly detailed outlines of novels, though they are very flexible. I can't write by the seat of my pants--I've tried--because I often come up with the ending early in the process. (Sometimes it's the first thing I come up with.) It's just too hard to move toward a known ending for the length of a novel without being too linear and predictable. The outline allows be to get off the main road without worrying about getting lost.

I write short stories much as you and David do. The idea comes to me, and I fool with it in my head. Might make a few notes, just to see what they look like. Then I draft like hell until it's on the disk and edit until there's an actual story there.

Dave Zeltserman said...

Every short story I've written I've had written in my head before putting it down on paper. With novels I'll write a very detailed 8-10 page outline, but while writing the book does become something organic and I'll take detours from my outline. New plot threads come alive, new characters are born, but even with that, I've so far with my books have been able to get back to the outline.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Same for me, Clair. I see or hear something and that incident become the story. I think outlining would have been a great idea. I think it's written in my head but I'm not aware of it until the words come flying out. Sometimes if the whole story exists in my conscious mind, I get bored with it before I begin to write. What's left?

Dorte H said...

Like you, I can get through a short story without planning much (a few sentences to remind myself where I am headed), but for a novel I write a fairly detailed plan or outline in e.g. 10 points so before I begin writing, I have a clear idea of plot and main characters, but not necessarily all the sidetracks.

deborahb said...

I use Scrivener, which lets me lay out the structure of the novel in a graphical kinda way, & then I treat each 'chunk' (usually folders inside Acts) as a short story.

I still tend to become overwhelmed, though. :/

pattinase (abbott) said...

SCRIVENERS, huh? I'll look into that.
Dorte-Wish I had thought to do that!

Richard S. Wheeler said...

I never outline my novels and I never know where they are heading. Long ago, when I tried writing from detailed outlines or synopses, my characters went on strike. Now I put my characters in an initial dilemma and let them work things out themselves. I rejoice when they take over the story and I become merely a chronicler.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That is my ideal scenario, Richard. But I think with the novel I've been working on, it's made it too episodic since I come from the short story background.

the walking man said...

How much of the time do you fly by the seat of your pants?

99.999999% the rest of the time I think about it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

HA! I think poetry is a whole different thing.

Fleur Bradley said...

For me, writing is a little like following a hiking trail. I have a map, but things usually wind up looking a lot different than I originally imagined. And there are always a lot of bugs :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

I tend to do too much seat of the pants stuff, which means a lot of rewriting. But for a simplified linear story it's not so bad. The Talera books still came out in a reasonable time because they were very linear. Cold in the Light took a lot longer and more rewriting.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

I would rather be dead than have to write an outline.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Me, too Sandra, but it might be because we are growing close to death anyway.