Which Comes First - Short Story Or Novel?

A writer writes.

Bet you've heard that one before.

Or maybe this one: if you want to be a writer, first you write one word, then you write the next.

Both of these old clichés are true, of course. That's how they turned into clichés. But there's another dilemma a beginning creative writer often finds himself facing: do I write short stories or novels?

Writing novels is almost always the end goal. You'll find exceptions---such as Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, who primary built their careers writing short stories---but the vast majority of successful storytellers are novelists.

The real question then is this: do I jump into novel writing with both feet or do I test the waters first by writing short stories?

Generally, beginning writers don't understand that these are two very different forms. They see writing a short story as easier, less intimidating. At a cursory glance, it's hard to argue with that. But if you ask a writer successful in both forms, he'll almost always tell you that short stories pose a much more difficult task.

Why?

Because you're working on a small canvas.

The novel is a wall mural. It's expansive. You have time to fully develop your characters. There's room for movement, for growth and change, for surprises and insights, for looking back as well as looking forward.

The short story is an 8x10 landscape. It's a moment in time when your character faces a critical point in his or her existence, a moment that changes everything. In a glimpse, readers must believe in your characters, in the crisis they face, in the choices they make. It's a tiny, one-dimensional surface that must appear three-dimensional.

With that understanding, starting out writing short stories can still be a good proving ground for a writer. You learn quickly what works and what doesn't. You learn to write tight, to pack as much meat into as few words as possible. You learn to capture the core make up of your characters.

All very valuable lessons for both the short story writer and the novelist.

David B. Silva
The Successful Writer
http://thesuccessfulwriter.com
Copyright 2005

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