In the course of reading through Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies For Fun And Profit (which I am finding an eminently enjoyable read for those of the wordsmithing persuasion), I came across the following quote:
“…I think my initial approach was typical for most beginning writers. We start out writing short stories because it certainly looks like the easiest way to break in. The short story is a compact and controllable form. One can grasp it all at once. It’s short-that’s how it got its name—and it won’t take a year and a day to write. A person can do a few dozen of them, learning as he goes along, in less time than it might take him to write a novel.” p. 38
If this is, in fact, the case, then I was not a typical beginning writer. I did not begin with short stories. I didn’t then, nor do I now like short stories, reading or writing. It’s over too soon…I don’t know enough about the characters…It’s too–limited. I began my illustrious career (snort), at the age of twelve in the sixth grade at Martin Luther King Intermediate School. I was introduced to the girl who would become my best friend on a chilly fall day during recess. We swapped phone numbers and one of us called the other that afternoon. By the end of a two hour conversation, Adrianne and I had decided to write a book. I cannot fathom why we made this decision. I don’t remember any of the conversation except the end result, which was a piece of prose begun in a red, spiral bound 3 subject notebook–a notebook which I still have, tattered, torn and worn somewhere in a box in the attic. Ah, nostalgia. We plotted out our main characters (based on ourselves, of course), our basic plot, and went to town. We filled hours over the years with plotting and envisioning the story. Our heroines aged as we did and the book got rewritten each year. I think the last draft was written while we were at camp one long summer the year before we started high school. Years before the writing had fallen mainly to me, as that turned out to be my passion, rather than hers.
It wasn’t until high school that writing a short story ever even occurred to me. In my hometown we have a summer arts festival. Part of this festival was a writer’s contest for short stories and poetry, both adult and youth division. I had no delusions of grandeur that I had any capability as a poet, but I thought, perhaps I could come up with a decent short story. From 9th grade through our senior year, I and another close friend of mine vied for 1st place (I think she wound up with one more ribbon than I did…but we flip flopped each year). I wrote the stories, and I won little ribbons for them. And I hated every minute of it. I hated the word limit. I hated that I didn’t have time to develop characters, to follow various threads of the plot. I loathed distilling all of the interesting detail out of the story to fit it into one brief capsule of words (for even then I was fascinated with detail). My efforts at publishing any of these stories were fruitless, and at last I received a form rejection with a scrawled note for an editor that my short story had too many plot lines and should be pared down. Rather than commit myself to such an odious task, I faced the truth: I am not a short story writer. Never have been. Never will be. My heart and my keyboard belong to the novel.
Why I love writing novels:
1. There’s room for detail
2. I have plenty of opportunity to develop the various nuances of my characters, big and small
3. I can play with weaving multiple plot lines
4. I can spend months (and years) with the same beloved characters
5. I think in terms of the “big picture” and have room to encapsulate it
6. I can provide more than a glimpse into the lives of my characters
7. I write what I like to read
8. Because I spend more time on the piece, there’s more opportunity to refine the plot and the characters and make it all more interesting
9. Oh the possibilities!
10. There’s a much larger market for novels than short stories.
I wrote my first complete novel at age 14. I finished it in 6 months. I wrote the sequel in 3. I began this particular endeavor in response to my favorite YA writer L.J. Smith, who has obtained an almost cult following for her paranormal/suspense/romance. I’d just finished devouring everything Smith had written and looked for something else like it–and there was nothing. Other YA in the genre was written for an obviously younger audience, which ticked me off as a bright teen. Smith gave her readers credit for intelligence and wrote at a higher level (I later discovered this was because my favorite trilogies of hers had originally been written targeting an adult audience). So I set out to write more of what I wanted to read. I wrote it. And while writing more, I attempted publication (oh how naive I was!). I’ve still got those first three rejection letters. Again it was the hand scrawled note at the bottom of a form rejection that spurred me on to more action “You create a nice mysterious tone.” Woo! They didn’t want it, but I did something well! As it turns out looking back from more than ten years later, I’m ecstatic that they didn’t publish those books. They were those unpublishable first novels upon which I cut my teeth. I’ve since begun countless novels but finished nothing owing to the intervening of life (bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, marriage, real world jobs), but I’m back in pursuit of my dream. And thank God I enjoy the process, whereas so many writers apparently derive less pleasure from the writing itself than from having written. Now if you will be so kind as to excuse me, I have a date with my hero and heroine.
The story about you and Adrianne was lovely. I’m glad you shared it.
Writers’ minds. Funny how much alike, yet how different, we all are.
I did start out writing short stories. They helped me learn a lot about structure. 🙂