I’ve slowly come to understand that two entirely different mindsets are necessary for writing short stories and writing novels. As a reader, I’ve turned away from short stories over the years, and concentrated on novels, the longer the better. I can look back now and see that I’ve always preferred the door-stop novel, or as close to as I could find. So when I finally found a plot that I knew could be a novel, and completed my first NaNoWriMo, it wasn’t the struggle that it seemed to be for so many of the people sighing and crying on the forums. It wasn’t easy, because the first of anything is rarely easy, but it seemed natural.
When NaNo was over, the sighing and crying transformed into the agony of revising and editing. I’ve been seeing the same patterns for six years now, first the pain of writing, then the pain of figuring out what to do with the writing. For two of those years, I’ve been writing novels, as well as a novella (Crossing Boundaries), and one that’s only a couple of chapters away from being finished and ready for revision.
During those two years, I’ve also been making notes for a multitude of stories or (as I thought) future novels. Some of those are even partly finished, but somewhere along the line, they ran out of steam. No problem, I thought. I’ll go back to them when I have the time to work out the problems. It never occurred to me that maybe some of those stories weren’t meant to be novels. In November of 2010, I tucked away the link to an article written for NaNoWriMo — How Can You Tell if Your Novel is Just an Overgrown Short Story. But I never read it again.
Reading it now, I come to it with a different perspective. Its most relevant question, for me, is “Does your plot lend itself to complications?” I usually think in terms of conflict, but conflict usually leads to complications, so that works for me. I have a Stories project (folder) in Scrivener that holds all my ideas for future stories, whatever notes I’ve made for some of them, bits of dialogue, and character sketches. I eventually realized that a lot of those ideas were never going to become novels. My first impulse was to discard them. But looking at them now, I can consider why they might or might not become novels. And I base that judgment on how much potential they have for complications/conflict. If there isn’t much potential, then they’re better off developed as short stories. The problem, then, is how to develop them.
And that’s a topic for another post.