Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Short Form

I've been working on my novel 90% of the time lately. Much as I love that, I do miss working on short stories. I'll probably try to put one together here soon.

Short stories are tough. In a lot of ways, I think they're tougher than novels. Once I've got a novel idea, I just sit down and work on it every day. Sometimes I'll get stuck in the muddle in the middle, or I'll have to rework something from the beginning, but for the most part, when I get up in the morning I know what I have to do, how to do it, and then, well, I do it.

Short stories involve some of the same processes as novels, but the focus shifts to the idea of the thing, and a kind of super-efficiency or super-clarity that grants substance inside of a very short space. In novels I can develop tangents, work on deep themes, have characters of all kinds march on and off stage, and build a complex world in which the happenings combine into something that makes sense of life.

It's much harder for me to make sense of life in a few scenes. It's harder for me to convey the richness of human (or inhuman) experience and how that ties into the world (or universe) around us when I've got only so many pages to do it in.

My DH checked out some P.G. Wodehouse for me, so that's been my main reading material between fits of writing. Those fun stories may seem trite and something just about anyone could write with two minutes to think about characterization and setting, but I know better. It's the deceptively simple things that people dismiss until they actually sit down and attempt to do it. Wodehouse, to me, seems like the word-master equivalent of a sumi-e painter who makes his living writing comics for the funny pages. Seemingly simple, but actually extremely difficult. These are the kinds of things that people readily poo poo as trivial. And so they may, and should if it's not their thing, but no one should fool themselves into believing that it's easy.

There are folks that find the short story form easy. I'm not one of them. I have the deepest admiration for people who've mastered the short form. I don't know that I've mastered the book length, but it's a heckuva lot easier for me! I'll keep working on those short stories, though. There's something compelling about being able to say a lot in a little bit of space. I think once I've broken past some of my weaknesses in the short form, the novel length stuff will improve too.

It's all good, worthwhile-to-work-at stuff.

And if you haven't read P.G. Wodehouse, give him a try.

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