As part of the author feature week Juliet Marillier wrote a lovely guest blog post talking about the differences between long and short fiction. Aspiring writers, this is really interesting, if you’re deciding which route to take.
Take it away, Juliet!
The Long and the Short of it (guest blog by Juliet Marillier)
If there’s anything I’ve learned from hanging around with speculative fiction readers, it’s that a high proportion of them are also aspiring writers. This is a post for the writers among you.
One of the questions I’m often asked is this: ‘Should I start with short stories before attempting a novel / trilogy / series?’ The theory behind this, I think, is that short stories are easier to write. Sort of practice for the ‘real thing’.
Short stories are certainly much quicker to write. That’s not the point, though. If you’re serious about writing, you’ll want to make everything you write as fine and good and satisfying as possible. Creating a perfectly written short story may be less time-consuming than writing a good novel, but it’s every bit as challenging.
Short stories need attention to balance, form and voice. With short fiction you have a limited number of words in which to convey your message, to touch the reader’s emotions and intellect, to charm or horrify or startle or amuse. In a short story everything must be just right. That takes time – not time spent turning out thousands of words, but time spent thinking, reading your work aloud, cutting and juggling and refining and reworking until you have the perfect assembly of words and sentences and paragraphs in the perfect order. Not a word too many; not a word out of place.
But don’t novels, too, need to be polished? I wish they all could be. I love fantasy novels whose writers combine fine writing craft and compelling storytelling: writers like Eowyn Ivey, Joe Abercrombie and Margo Lanagan, to give some contemporary examples. But many fantasy novels rely more on a fast-moving plot and good world building than on, say, brilliant characterisation, stunning use of language or great depth of meaning, and the average reader is quite happy with that.
So if you are an aspiring novelist with a great idea and heaps of enthusiasm, and you are not a perfectionist, you may as well dive straight into writing your novel. Of course, for that you need another quality: stickability. Writing a novel takes long time, especially if it’s a bug-whomping epic fantasy. You need to keep the faith for all the days, weeks, months and maybe years of writing, while juggling the rest of your life. And then you must revise and rework your manuscript – perhaps not to the gem-like brilliance of a great short story, but at least to a readable standard. Please don’t rush to post it online the moment it’s finished. While Ms Average Reader won’t be as fussy as I am, she’ll prefer your novel if it’s been properly edited, at the very least.
Whether you decide to hone your skills on short fiction or tackle the novel straight up, I recommend that you don’t work in isolation. Join a critique group, either online or face to face – be prepared to try a few before you find one that’s a good fit for you. Study writing. Read great craft books such as those by Donald Maass; consider taking formal classes. Follow good craft-and-business blogs such as Writer Unboxed. Knowing you’re not alone will help you haul yourself through the quagmire of the mid-book. Above all, have faith in yourself. Whether short or long, write the story that’s bursting to get out!
Thanks Juliet! you can get Shadowfell in stores now, and the sequel, Raven Flight, is due out in July of this year. Want some short stories? Her upcoming short story book, Prickle Moon, is due out in April. Get more info at www.julietmarillier.com.