Navigating Space in Writing

Trapped in a tiny box

via sundaykofax on flickr.com/creativecommons

I have space issues. I’m a confessed claustrophobic, yet I sometimes dream of living in a tiny home, having everything within reach. I like the minimalist philosophy and the idea of using space efficiently. I’m a sucker for pockets upon pockets in a bag, secret drawers in a closet, or hidden compartments in jewelry boxes. There’s so much one can fit into small quarters with the right organization and planning.

That would explain my affinity for flash fiction. I love stories in a compact space, short shorts that insist I take my word limit seriously. There isn’t room for unnecessary details or dialogue. And, in a good flash fiction, more is revealed if you read beyond character gestures and listen to pauses in speech.

Thoughts on my preference for small spaces also helps me understand why writing a novel continues to baffle me. Moving from flash fiction to a novel parallels my experience when we upgraded from a one bedroom apartment to our first home, an overwhelming three bedroom house.

Rooms sat empty for a while.
The sound of footsteps bounced off plastered ceilings and wood floors.
Everything echoed, until we filled the rooms.
With furniture.
A rug.
Curtains.

Filling out a novel with 80,000 words is killing me. And, I’m not alone. Jenna Blum, in her post on Grub Street Daily (“Can’t I Just Write 15 Stories About the Same People: Turning Short Stories Into a Novel”), responds to another writer’s same question: how the heck do you move from short form to long?

If you can write a short story, you can write a novel–because both of them have beginning, middle and end…The short story contains its own arc.  The novel imposes its arc on a series of chapters–or stories.

Blum says, sure, you can write a series of stories on the same person, but there’s more to the novel that comes out in the narrative arc and plot. She says, ” If a short story is…a kiss from a stranger, a novel is a long love affair.”

So, I don’t want to sell my story short (there must be a pun in there somewhere), but I still cringe at the 80,000 word mark. What I want is to merge the idea of a novel being a long series of flash fiction pieces, while keeping in mind Blum’s caution not to lose the novel’s theme throughout.

What about you? How do you move from short form to long, or vice versa? Or, maybe you want to talk about itty bitty living quarters?….

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133 responses to “Navigating Space in Writing

  1. Great thoughts here, Christi! Being a “less is more” kind of writer, I also struggle with the longer form at times. Yes, it’s the same in that it has a beginning, middle and end (I like that quote!), but there is a lot more weaving that goes into it. And there is some great satisfaction in setting out to write a 3,000 word piece of short fiction, finishing the first draft in a day, and seeing that it all pretty much makes sense. With novels, I take it scene by scene — they are there own pieces of flash fiction. The trick is to link them all together. I’m still learning.

    • Boy, Amanda, I think you hit the nail on the head for me. I love the shorter forms because I love a finished draft sooner rather than later. Maybe I’m going through a little culture shock, setting my sights on novels.

  2. I am downsizing my living quarters, hoping it helps or at least hoping I don’t get buried under all the junk I will be squeezing into smaller space. But I hope really to be able to become more organized and more of a minimalist.

    Do I hear the sound of possible a Novella for you … something in between flash and novel perhaps? Whatever it is, no matter it’s length I am certain it will be lovely.

    • Julie, I was thinking about a novella, but I thought that might be cheating for me…like maybe a novella sounded better because of that looming 80,000 word mark. It’s definitely something for me to consider, though….

      ps. Hope your downsizing goes well :)

  3. Vaughn Roycroft

    I’m with you, living space wise. We designed and built our Arts & Crafts bungalow with the less-is-more, live in the ‘human scale’ ideals in mind. At 1,600 s.f., it’s perfect for my wife, dog, and I.
    Writing wise, I’ve got the opposite problem, and need to find my way to less is more. Perhaps it’s the historic-fantasy genre, but my novels are big. In fact, I struggle and struggle to keep them under 120k (my WIP, my fourth, is weighing in too heavy at around 130, and still not quite done). When I try to write short, I struggle to stay under 20k. Maybe if we both focus, we can meet somewhere in the middle, Christi. I’ll keep at it if you will. Good luck!

    • Vaughn, I wonder if all historical-fantasy writers struggle the same with longer works. It seems like, when you’re creating a whole world, you have to leave room for more. Either way, we’re all working towards the same goal – a complete story – so meeting in the middle sounds great, Vaughn!

    • Isn’t is true that Fantasy MSs get more leeway in terms of word counts?

      I mean, I like my fantasy books to be longer. Doesn’t everyone?

  4. How strange, I also tend to be claustrophobic, but constantly fantasize about living in a loft.

    I find it fairly easy to move from short to long, and I’m not sure why. One reason might be that, so far, I’ve written from multiple points of view, and the problem becomes keeping the novel a reasonable size. In some ways, the multiple viewpoints might border on the idea of weaving together a bunch of short stories, although you do need the larger storyline.

    (Vaughn … I thought 120-130k is considered perfectly acceptable for the fantasy genre?)

    I read a book on the craft of fiction that said: What’s the difference between the short story version and the novel …? There is more conflict … there are more scenes. But what accounts for them? One thing and one thing only: more characters. Yes, definitely an over-simplification, but it helped minimize that sense of feeling overwhelmed with the length of a novel.

    For me, the challenge comes in the re-writing, because I have to re-read and re-write enough to get the whole story into my head as a single piece before I can get the whole thing to hang together. (Not sure that makes sense, but I’ll quit with the overly long comment now!)

    • Vaughn Roycroft

      @Cathryn, 120-130 is the sweet spot. Now if I could just finish in that range. :-)

    • Cathryn, That’s a great quote. On POV, I have added multiple POV’s to this draft, which definitely gives it more depth (as well as a chance at length). I’ll think about how I can draw from that technique even more.

      Also, I’d love your take on the difference in writing a novel vs. a novella. Do you like one genre better than the other?

      • I still love the novel, but that’s because I love to read novels. I like the novella because it feels more like a short story and is easier to manage — the “hold the whole thing in my head” aspect.

  5. I prefer small in houses, but storage space is necessary, because I’m also a neat freak.

    This relates to writing, too. I would rather say more in less space. I think readers prefer to gather more information in fewer words. Yet, I enjoy subplots that deepen a character and add to the reasoning behind events in the main story. I don’t know how this all will work out for me in my writing. I admire writers that head toward a destination, stop along the way to develop all the major players in the story, and don’t get lost, or lose the reader, on the journey. It’s the art of novel writing.

    I like your flash fiction. Succinct. Blessings to you, Christie

    • Carol, I think less space definitely means you must be neat. That also means, I’m not downsizing any time soon: small kids equals piles of plastic toys and stuffed animals, which don’t fit in any neat space.

      On writing, I imagine the kind of stories you’re talking about are written by authors who do a lot of vertical writing, digging deep. That is an art, especially when it comes to the right timing in the story. I’m working on that, as well.

      ps. Thanks for the compliment on my flash fiction :)

  6. I don’t really have an answer for you because I seem to be stuck at novel length. I admire your flash fiction because I’m not successful at it. I don’t even feel that I write 3-5k short stories well. Maybe I write novels because I just don’t know when to shut up. :-)

    However, I do know that I stopped Brevity at 65k thinking I’d told a complete story, but my first beta reader felt I’d short-changed one of my characters. She wanted (needed) to know her better. I would imagine coming from short fiction writing, you might have a tendency to be a little tight in your character development.

    Also, you mentioned in short stories you don’t have room for “unnecessary dialogue”. Maybe you are restricting yourself too much in that with your novel.

    • Linda, Your experience shows the value of having Beta readers, and I think you’re right, I’m a little too tight in character development. Is there a pill for that? Or, at least a good workshop?

      And, I’ll take another look at how I use dialogue. There’s probably room for expansion there as well.

  7. Christi, first of all, you can definitely get to those 80,000 words! Bird by bird.

    My main experience with long works is in non-fiction, but I think there is a similarity. The longest book I wrote (too long, I sometimes think), began as chapters, and it wasn’t until I had all the chapters written that I could go back and make changes to tie them together more fluidly.

    So far I’ve experienced the same thing with writing a novel. Sometimes I have to tell myself that I won’t know some aspects of the big picture until I get to the end, when there will be time to see with a broader lens.

    I hope so, anyway. :)

    • Lisa, I thought of you last night, right after I scheduled this post and hit the hay. You’re doing exactly this with your flash narratives on Hattie. I see how you make this technique work so beautifully with her story, and in some ways I want to incorporate that technique into this novel draft.

      For a while I was working chapter by chapter, but lately it’s been more like scene by scene. I think I just need to rid myself of that word count number.

  8. Is there a reason you feel you must write a novel? Alice Munro has done well for herself in the short story form. With epublishing, novels are getting shorter, not longer.

    That said, if you have an idea that needs 80,000 words, then you’re probaby going to be a natural at putting conflict and good pacing in each scene. Maybe give yourself permission to first draft wildly, then go back after the fact to develop theme, motif, etc.

    • Jan, You know, you make a great point as well. I did consider how epublishing calls for shorter works. Novella…hmmm.

      Also, I had been looking at this draft as more of a better “second” draft, but in so many ways, it’s acting more like a first draft — lots of changes in plot, new characters, etc. So, maybe it’s time to take it for what it is and write wildly like you say for a while, keeping in mind the option of a novella.

      Thanks for your comment.

  9. I’ve been sticking with the long form for years, not even trying my hand at short stories. I admire folks who can put a whole world into a piece of flash fiction and would like to try someday. That all being said, I think I’ve moved from long form to longer form with my new novel. I’m on track to surpass 100,000 words, much like Vaughn. I am writing historical fiction, so maybe that’s why. There are lots of characters and historical details to sneak in. Then again, I’m planning to be a ruthless editor when I’m done with this draft!

    • Laura, It’s funny how writers tend to hover in one form or another. And, like Vaughn, your numbers amaze me. I imagine, though, that historical fiction presents a whole other set of challenges, which is why they tend to be longer.

      There’s a place way up north, an old logging community, that we visited last year, and there’s a sense of richness there, a host of stories. On the ride home, I told myself that if I ever write historical fiction, I would start at that place. Historical fiction seems like it would be challenging to write, but I bet it offers so many rewards.

      • I’ve had so much fun working on this novel, learning about specific places and events of the 19th century and propelling my character through this world. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I do wonder if I’ll write more historical fiction when I’m done with this or go back to literary fiction. I do find myself sandwiching more plot into this story than any of my previous novels, causing the page count to soar! But for a good reason, as you mentioned.

      • Vaughn Roycroft

        I love your logging town story. Since childhood I’ve loved vacations in Northern Michigan, and my parents used to take us to recreated forts, logging camps, historic homes, etc. I know their efforts had a lot to do with my love of history. I still trapse from one historic site to another, and know it’s an inspiration to my writing.

        I think Laura’s right. I love the research, and you just want to share, so you build as much of it into the story as possible. And she’s also right that you then need to be a ruthless self-editor (I still struggle, and am going to try again on my Book I this summer). You may not be feeling it, but I think your ability for succinctness is a blessing. I count my verbosity among my greatest faults as a writer (as illustrated by this post. ;-) ).

        I’m glad I came back – this has been a great thread!

        • Agreed! Christi, your logging village sounds like a perfect location for a story. I meant to say that in my previous comment, but then I got thinking about page counts and why this novel keeps getting bigger.

          Vaughn, so interesting that you love the research part of historical writing. I fell in love with an object, which led me to a story, which led me to the research. And I balked at first. There’s definitely an art to how many facts you stick in as the plot unravels. I’m still learning! I love this quote from historical fiction author Clare Clark, and I plan to cut excess verbiage accordingly in my next draft: “A novel is not the place to advertise your historical scholarship but to find a place in the imagination that is as informed by fact as it possibly can be.
”

  10. Vaughn and Laura,
    Well, I just might have to look more into the logging town idea now (have you ever been to Fayette, Vaughn? My guess is yes…). You are both selling me on the fun of research! I love that quote, too, Laura.

  11. Christi–I related to this 1000%. I’ve had some decent success with flash and short stories in the past year. And I’m so happy about that, but when I imagine a writing career, I picture a novelist. I want to write book! I always have! I’ve written two but they’re terrible. Anyway, I know there’s Alice Munro and some others who have stuck to short stories, but even with e-publishing etc, you still need an audience for your work. Sigh.

    • Nina, Just last night I went to see Alan Heathcock (author of VOLT and an amazing reading!), and he talked about the origins of his collection of stories. He said he made two big decisions right away, voice and location, and then let the stories all develop from there. Similar to Elizabeth Strout’s novel, OLIVE KITTERIDGE, I suppose. When I left his reading, I was all fired up again about working on a collection, with reappearing characters, which might satisfy my desire to create a novel and take advantage of my comfort with the short form. I’ve been thinking on that all day.

      And, it’s always good to know that I’m not alone. Thanks for your comment :)

  12. I, too, am a confessed claustrophobic and writer. But my writing is of the non-fiction variety, and thus my blog (about my post-crazy-divorce life) has been so fundamental — I’m writing my book, one little blog post at a time!

    It’s nice to meet a kindred (claustro) spirit. ;)

  13. Awesome! Me like much! -sorry, I was going for economky of words. or maybe I was conserving brain cells?

    Seriously I enjoyed reading this and I am going to read it again. I love this because it wasn’t just informative but it had such a unique perspective, sort of like when Thurber wrote about a new dam from the persepctive of the fish!

  14. I have the opposite problem – I have too much stuff in my house and some of it has to go.

    Oh wait, I mean I have too many words in my novel and some of them have to go :P Writing a short story is near-to-impossible for me (they all end up being long short stories, possibly novellas) so I’ve been working on cutting out any extra words I can find. I figure if I cut out extra words here and there, rather than trying to cut out whole chunks of story, I’ll slim it down enough :)

    Good luck writing 80k! Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up next month – maybe that will help?

  15. there is a novel in all of us. My problem is my story is boring regardless of length! LOL

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  17. I too am working on a novel…again. My problem in the past has always been in plot development. This time I think I have a clearer idea of where I want to go with the plot and subplots though, I hope. Congrats on being freshly pressed!

  18. Sometimes it helps to put the number out of your head. Don’t think in terms of “80,000 words.” Think in terms of the scene you’re creating right now. Think in terms of the inner lives of your characters. Think in terms of what they want, what they’re working toward, and what’s working against them.

    Of course, I also know that the numbers matter, so I’m also prone to breaking the big number down into smaller numbers. If you look at 80,000 words in relation to a three-act structure, you can say something along the lines of, “Well, by about 25,000 words, I want this turning point to happen.” And from there, you can break the 25,000-word goal down into incrementally smaller goals. The result can be that you worry less about the big 80,000 word goal and focus more on your smaller goals; this could make your work less daunting and considerably more enjoyable.

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  20. I don’t have much advice, and I too am a blogger. During my undergrad i wrote long research papers, but that does not compare to fiction and the development of a fiction novel. I recently attended the 2011 Book Summit at Harbour Front, downtown toronto and I met with a woman named Angelika Littlefield and she had the opposite problem. She has currently written a historical/fiction novel based on her families experience during WWII in Germany, and she is looking for an editor to condense her literature. She usually self-edits but finds she is too close and connected to the material, and so she can’t cut out anymore even though she knows she should, ha ha. I think you are both super interesting!! I understand both problems and see how it could be daunting on your writing… good luck!! Sorry i wasn’t much help

  21. I have a huge problem with space, particularly with trying to turn short stories into novels. Perhaps there is a subconscious hindrance preventing me from turning my short fiction into larger works. As much as I’ve tried in the past to incorporate more backstory, dialogue, or introduce more characters to lengthen my short stories – I’ve been incapable of doing so. I’d like to tell myself that these characters were meant to live in the small world I’ve created for them – that’s a good way to pacify my situation. Thanks for the insight.

  22. I think it’s a style question. A language question and nothing else. I think you just need to sew your little pieces as in a patchwork. You simply need your idea for each piece and something like a path to hang the flashes in – I beg your pardon if my english is rough- that’s what I’m doing just now and it’s …tasteful galician . Just try.

  23. I love your blog! And I’m a writer as well. Please check out my blog http://janachantel1.wordpress.com/ as I try to become a successful published author

  24. Interesting that almost no one writing non-fiction has weighed in here…Given my two magazine assignments due today, one of 650 words, one of 300 (!), I much prefer writing books to writing for print…Gone are the days (except for about 5 magazines) you got 4,000 to 6,000 words to really explore a subject.

    I’m fortunate to have had a long enough career that I have written many longer pieces — and so moving to a NF book (my first was 100,000 words, the second 75,000) was not scary. But going from blogging to a book? Good luck. Like going from walking around the block to running a marathon.

  25. stephen king once said that you should do always from long to short (i’m wondering if he realy does that;) ). i’m doing both. some cross outs and some adds. i guess the lenght depends on what impression you wish to make on your readers and what the story needs :) so simple and so complicated at once.

  26. Your just nervous because you haven’t done this before.

    I suggest just writing the novel. Just write all the words. Don’t think of short story or long story or whatever. Just get over the shock of the marathon.

    Next time, you’ll realize that a novel is a long short story. There is a huge story arc (usually). But there’s also a lot of room. A shit ton of room. It’s not just a tiny house vs. a big house, but your novel can have many tiny houses, and be a whole huge world, too.

    You can do whatever you want in a novel. So decide what you want.

    I think that that trying to connect short stories into a long piece is totally fine because the inner writer in you will take care of the other details.

    Just keep in my _why_ you want to do this, what excites you about being a novelist and have fun with it.

  27. When I write short stories, I skip the details. I jump from action to action to action to conclusion, without “fully fleshing out” the characters. I explain the situation/problems directly as a narrator, instead of having the characters discover them. This way I get under 3000 words or so

    When I write novels and longer pieces, I develop more. I put more thematic, literary elements into the story so that readers can grow and learn with the characters.

    Best of luck!

    -GD
    Visit my writing blog at http://shelleddreams.wordpress.com/

  28. I have to admit – I found it interesting to read that you’re having troubles moving from short stories to novels…. because I have the exact opposite problem – LOL!

    Friends have said to me, “Why don’ t you write a bunch of short stories and try to get them published first, and then work on getting your novels published?” I tried that. The problem is, whenever I start writing a short story… it turns into a novel – DOH!

  29. Loved this post! I, too, am daunted by the shear breadth of a novel, but I’m plugging away. I think perhaps the trick is loving the characters you’re developing and wanting to stick with them for months or years at a time. But enjoy the flash fiction! One day one of your shorter pieces will beg for more and you’ll be off and running.

  30. I think short stories are actually ahrder to write… with longer novels you have more words to faff about with…lol…

  31. I started out writing, and still do write, poetry. The thought of writing thousands of words then seemed daunting. I always told the novelists I met at writing retreats how much I admired their literary stamina and patience with working on a longer form of writing.

    It wasn’t until I studied journalism in college and wrote for several publications before landing a job as a staff writer at a black newspaper in Baltimore that the thought of writing thousands of lines wasn’t as daunting.

    As a journalist, I wrote feature articles that were 1,800-3,000 twice, sometimes even three times, a week. During that time, I also started writing flash fiction.

    Completing those tasks made me brave enough to attempt a short story that’s about 5,000 words. The research skills I developed as a journalist and in writing both the flash fiction and short story now got me thinking that a novel or a nonfiction book might be a possibility for me in the future.

    My first love is writing poems, but journalism gave me an appreciation for fiction and nonfiction that I don’t always get with poetry. I guess for me, my continued love of writing poems would be the reason you fell in love with flash fiction: “the minimalist philosophy and the idea of using space efficiently….There’s so much one can fit into small quarters with the right organization and planning.”

    That’s extremely true for narrative poems, which, as you put it for flash fiction, requires stories to fit “in a compact space…that insist I take my word limit seriously.” And you’re right: we’re not alone. Thank you for this post, Christi!

    (By the way, I smiled at the pun in “I don’t want to sell my story short” before I even got your parenthetical note. Thanks again.)

  32. I began with short stories and I’m currently writing a novel. They say short stories are like sprints and the novel is a marathon. Well, this marathoner is getting tired. But I’m back running. I might finish last, but I’ll finish.

  33. I think writing short stories are novels are quite different forms, and you have to learn the techniques for each to do both of them well.
    I tend to churn out novellas by accidents – short stories that are too long or novels that are too short. Currently I am aiming for a proper length novel. Hope you hit your goal as well!

  34. I agree that writing a novel is like writing a short story in many respects, however there are several notable works which are nothing more than mere short stories compiled in a clever manner, such as ‘The Friendly Persuasion’. It is hard to complete a large work (my first novel was 542 pages) but it is one of the greatest disciplines a writer can make themselves adhere to.

  35. I am struggling in the opposite direction. I am currently editing my first novel, and wanted to do some short story writing on the side. I know I used to write short stories when I was younger, but now that I have written something 90,000 words long, I struggle with finding a story to tell that is “short story length.”

    Good luck and happy writing!

  36. Great post! I have the opposite problem. I have trouble writing short stories but I can write novels. I think it’s because I think of over-arching themes and multiple story lines. I also think I like to run my mouth, so that may have something to do with it as well…

  37. Its a class line “If a short story is…a kiss from a stranger, a novel is a long love affair”…

  38. I have a terrible time moving from long stories to short. I start out meaning well. I think to myself, “Okay, Self. You can do this. Just a couple page story about two strangers who meet and share a spark.” I start out with a thrilling beginning, which then leads to the lady of the story discovering her Prince Charming is really a wounded young man in a broken marriage where his woman skipped out on him for the UPS guy two days before. Next thing I know my imagination is frolicking gleefully through 100 pages… and I have a novel I never meant to start.

    It’s like I don’t know how to end the story without really bringing an *end* to the story. Instead of leaving it as a fleeting, impassioned moment shared by two strangers, I feel like I need to answer the nagging questions. Like “Do they get together?”, or “Is it love, or lust?”.

    Which is probably why I’ve only successfully written one short story, haha! :)

  39. I am a translator, so no competition here. :) As a translator I’d translate anything that pays the bills, but as a reader, I prefer dialogue. Call me superficial, but a novel with abundant, witty dialogue is half bought. :)
    Good luck with your project.

  40. I’ve never taken a story from short to long. What I’m working on, though, is making one short story several. I liked the supporting characters so much, and wanted to know so much more about them, that I began working on continuing their stories in other short stories. It gave me the chance to revisit the main character from each one from time to time as a background character. I could grow my main characters while giving each a place to shine. I don’t think the story needs to be a novel, but it wasn’t finished with one short story either. This is how I’ve split the difference.

    If you find any great advice on this long to short thing, though, let me know. Good luck with your WIP, whatever length it turns out to be. :-)

  41. My transition for short stories to long has been challenging, but I think I’m making a decent go of it. I break things down into managable nuggets for day to day working while trying to keep it all together in the framework of the greater story. Some days are easier than others, but it seems to be working for me.

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  43. writing a novel? No problem. Just put aside some time, occupy your space, and start to write…

  44. To me, it was more of a plot problem than a ohmygoodnessthatsalotofwords thing. I just had to find a way to lengthen the plot itself and then I just sat down and started writing, and hopefully it would come out well at the end. But I think you should just go for it, because most of the time it comes out better than you would think it would.

  45. i so agree less is more

  46. Some interesting stuff here. I am writing a narrative nonfiction story, which is pretty much like a novel. The thing that kept me going on the first draft was definitely scene, by scene, by scene ,and and a kind of overall stepped plan for the story. The rewriting is a bit different – the incision point into each chapter, like the start of a short story, is something I work on a lot. If I can get that right, it is like the string in a row of beads that makes that makes the whole thing stick. If I don’t get it right, the chapter is like wading through treacle. Another thing that sort of works for me is writing down a sentence that summarises the chapter. All hard work that keeps me hugry all the time!

  47. I have the same issue; in fact, I’ve had trouble moving from flash fiction to short story. As of late, I’ve been writing personal essays/creative nonfiction, but I still tend to be succinct. Even the papers I wrote for grad school were shorter than my classmates’. Maybe that’s why I like blogging so much–so much, in fact, that I’ve been spending more time on it than my other projects. For now, I’ve decided that brevity is part of who I am, and that if I find a book in me, I’ll try to channel my brevity to that end.
    Good luck on your novel, and congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed”!

  48. I love secret hiding spaces as well. The more pockets and drawers, the better!

  49. I generally write short things. Some times very short things. I do have an idea for a novel (well, a short book) but I really don’t have the urge to write it. I am pretty content with writing shorter pieces.

    I think it comes from reading old Buddhist poets. Expressing things with few words. Stuck with me. But then again my favourite writer is Julio Cortazar.

  50. i like this blog post.

  51. This may sound simplistic (and you may have already done this), but have you really asked yourself WHY you want to write a novel? If you enjoy writing the short stuff, then why not carry on doing what you love doing?

    Also, do you have enough material for a novel? If not, what about a novella?

    I think, as writers, it is sometimes too easy to consider what will fit into the world of writing instead of thinking about what it is we want to express first and foremost.

    My own experiences with writing a book (although admittedly not a novel) have been to write out whatever ideas comes to mind, then to section these under chapters (however small), which I then develop, shuffling text round as necessary. Personally, I find chapter titles very motivating – and amassing them into a makeshift ‘contents page’ also provides structure so I can see more of less where I’m going.

    I did come across an apparently-useful novel-writing book/kit on Amazon (am sure you can search it easily enough)… But, as well as learning from all the bumpf around, it seems to me that every writer has their own way and it’s a question of teaching yourself, finding out what works for you and ‘listening within’.

  52. I use to wrestle with myself over the length of my stories and novels. An indie author friend of mine is the master of BS; he can hammer out a 100k word novel like it was nothing. Me? I would be sitting on the 30k mark biting my nails wondering how on earth I was ever going to stretch the story out enough to make it a ‘novel.’ What I finally realized (and actually wrote a blog article about) is that there is no “right” length for a novel. I write what is in my head, stop when I finish. That’s it. No fluffery, no frills, no trying to BS my way through something that I feel would better if it were shorter. If that means my “novel” is 10k words or 100k, then that’s fine. I don’t sweat it. After all, proofreading and editing is enough of a headache without stressing over the number of words in the plotline.

  53. So with you on beefing up the verbage. It’s always ironic to me that corporate documents like software manuals and even proposals are easily hundreds of pages, but something interesting doesn’t necessitate that much. Good luck “filling it in”!

  54. In my opinion you should start to live in a bigger house. It isn’t important the number of rooms but it’s necessary that the new house has big spaces outdoor….GoodLuck, byebye

  55. You’re certainly not alone, Christi. I’ve been a newspaper reporter for 10 years and I’ve gotten used to boiling down lots of BS into short-and-sweet. Trying to take it back the other direction has been like trying to stop a boat with my feet.

  56. Have you heard of the “Story Cycle?” This is a collection of short stories that stand alone but complement and add to one another in a way that is novelistic. Read Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies–the collection, not just the title work, which has appeared in many anthologies. This popularity of this collection proves that a story cycle can have commercial appeal, like a novel.

  57. Madison Woods

    I have a hard time with word count, too but as I’m doing the editing on my wip, I’m finding more words are needed than what I’d left the first draft with. So that’s a good thing when the first draft ended at 78K words, lol.

    The difference between a novel and a short, to me, is like the difference between painting with oils versus acrylic. With oils you often have to spend time just letting things set. With acrylic, it’s possible to done in a day.

  58. I understand. Longest piece of fiction I’ve written to date is probably around 3000 words or so. I’m now attempting to write something that is at the very least 30’000. And it’s not like short stories where I can just write and write and write, because theres more to think about, so I’m writing less than normal in each session as well. Still, I know the pay off will be worth it in the end.

  59. How I wish I had your problem! I have written novels since I can remember, but I agonize over the art of short shorts (or even a simply short story!). My inability to keep things breif has prevented me from being able to venture into the competition arena, something that can be great for beefing up a writing resume. In fact, I recently suffered through the torture of hacking 60k words OUT of my historical romance….*twitch* only to discover that feat has ushered me into an ‘Ernest Hemingway’ phase… is that close to being a minimalist who can write short stories? o.O

  60. Pingback: Navigating Space in Writing (via Writing Under Pressure) « Writing Life

  61. The blog above yours was about Baseball. In baseball the are starting pitchers and closers. They work differently. One works long and the other short. Both are good. Both are neccessary and neither is the other. Enjoy your clausto-path. Live it and nurture it. If you are not gifted with the use of adjectives and adverbs and their respective clauses then just march on with subject, verb and object and let the text convey your story. Ultimately that is what we readers are looking for, the story. I have read Hemingway. I have read only the first halves of Tolstoy. Terrific post. You used the correct number of words to convey the theme.

  62. It’s like training for a marathon; keep pushing yourself to grow your short stories until finally you can believe in your ability to proceed to the end goal – your novel. Good luck!

  63. educationtakesavacation

    Isn’t this one of the reasons we love blogging so much? Less is more. If I ever write a book, I imagine that I’ll tackle it in short bursts and hope it all comes together in the end. Or that I have a patient editor friend willing to help me. lol.

    As for tiny spaces…there are tiny homes being built near me. The concept sounds great, but I’m not sure I can convince my family to give up half their belongings. Not that we have all that much, but it’s amazine what a family of four can aquire over the years. Maybe when the kids move out I’ll revisit the tiny home idea.

    good luck on your book!

  64. I do agree, small is beautiful.
    While writing a novel I try to think about how I love reading shorts, but I only can be engrossed while reading a novel. I cannot truly bury myself while writing a short story, but the beauty of a novel is the pure immersion.

  65. I think it’s probably been said already – you sure draw comments! – but maybe you shouldn’t worry about making flash fiction into a novel. For me, at least, the length of the piece depends on the idea. I wrote nothing longer than a one act play for the first ten years I was a writing plays. Not because I wanted to, but because none of my ideas made to full length. Readers can tell when you’re padding or waffling to reach word count, and if you’ve written as much flash fiction as you’ve said (huh – didn’t mean to sound like I don’t believe you. Just my pompous way of writing…) then you’re an expert at sharp and precise prose. Waffling ‘ain’t your style.
    So keep on keeping on. If the Big Idea is a novel-sized idea, it’ll get there. There’ll be too much story to stay in short form. But if you find yourself describing the clouds that float over your protagonists’ head as he strides down the stret into Starbucks for his morning latte…Cross that one off and pick another!

  66. I too love minimalism–I dream of a 900 sq. foot apartment in New York. One of my favorite things to read is short stories, especially when it comes to genre fiction. Though I have conquered a novel-length manuscript before, at the end I felt like it was messy in the middle and full of filler–something shorts can’t be. My current project (well, my favorite out of my current projects) is instead a series of five linked novelettes. One for each character’s journey up to a certain point, and then a last one with them all together.

    Short fiction is a different art from novels. Keep at it!

  67. have ever written Japanese haiku? I think you’d like it. You can say a lot in 17 syllables or less

  68. LOL – I hate being confined so much I’ve required sedatives to get me in a MRI machine, but when it comes to my research and writing I MUST HAVE EVERYTHING WITHIN MY REACH!

    I enjoy the long and short of writing, both serve a purpose and I don’t think I’d feel whole if I didn’t practice all forms.

  69. One of my goals at the begining of the year was to turn my vampire flash fiction series into a longer piece. I wrote some flash which allowed me to create and set the stage for certain side characters. After doing that for a bit, I started to visual my main characters and then once their flash story came to life, it all started falling into place. For me, writing flash has helped me with tenighten up my dialogue and understand character flow along with conflict. I’ve written a longer novel all at once. Which at times felt daunting. I’m not sure I’ll do it this way every time, but this time it worked.

  70. Well, I took a header off blogspot and started my blog here on WordPress, so I’m going to not volunteer for the writing comments. However, tiny living spaces I can!

    My flat, which I love, is tiny. The bedroom is so small my queen sized bed was exactly as long as the room was wide. I converted the living room into my bedroom, the bedroom is now a playroom (I know, what fortysomething woman has a playroom?). My kitchen has an apartment stove, three drawers, one storage cupboard, four ikea shelves, a steel bookshelf for a “pantry”, and my silverware (when not lobbed in the sink) sits neatly in a little mesh holder. It’s mesh. So I think I totally defeated the purpose of covering it with a little towel to avoid dust.

    My bathroom is my favorite room. It’s big enough I could put a chair in there (the Lazy kind). The storage cabinet over the toilet does offer challenges on occasion.

    The windows run floor to ceiling. And I only have six. Three are functional during the summer, one is blocked and the other two presently hold little AC units.

    Cluttered, dusty and tiny. But it’s home. :)

  71. I feel that the length of your story can sometimes have a lot to do with your style of writing. My last book came out at about 62,000 words. Just enough to be considered a novel. I intended it to be a shorter, fast paced story. I believe the story I am working on now will come out about the same.

  72. This site is what got me to write a novel: http://www.nanowrimo.org/

    It gives you a deadline and keeps you going along without stressing too much over the quality of the content. You can always go back and revise, but NaNoWriMo helped me to write that novel length story.

  73. I’m beginning my second attempt at novel-length (I also have preferred shorter stories) work. My first attempt was cut short under 20, 000 words after 3 months. But I’m at 6,000 in the middle of chapter 2 this time – 3 weeks into writing. The difference is that I’m following advice from books on novel writing, mainly making scene cards and outlining. The outline especially has allowed me the freedom to stop worrying about what happens next but rather how I will make it happen. I’ve personally found the use of the outline (after the initial headache of creating it) very freeing. And I LOVE small, cozy, well-decorated living. Probably because they’re easier to clean. :-)

  74. I’m currently juggling my novel with writing poetry… It’s working quite well- the novel lets me run off at the mouth in satisfying fashion, and the poems satisfy my need to craft tiny things and have them finished.

    I’m developing quite different styles for each- the novel’s relaxed and sprawling, a pulpy silly genre fic with digressions and twists, and I try for tightly-coiled snapshots in my poetry. Novel is at approx 15,000 words so far.

  75. I’m currently writing a series of my own. My shortest book (as of now) being 188,000 words long, and my longest book being 135,000 words currently (and is nowhere near completion). For me the entire series started as one short story, which later became the first chapter in the first book in the series (also the shortest book so far).

    At first I was unsure as to how I’d be able to complete an entire book (let alone a series). It simply became a matter of planning out a timeline for the different key events that existed within my series (a science fiction series). From there I figured out which characters and stories I’d want to tell, eventually leading to a basic plot for five books following the same set of characters. I started planning this out back when I was eleven (seven years ago). I’ve completed two entire books in the original five book series that I planned out, and more recently I started writing a prequel to this main series simply to explore some new characters and locations while figuring out key details for the next three books in my main series.

    To me there’s something rewarding about writing. I enjoy it, my friends enjoy reading it, even some of my teachers with whom I have become good friends. I know it’s not exactly easy in this day and age, but I’m hoping that I’ll be published someday soon. A writer is a storyteller in which he (or she) writes the story. And like any storyteller, we want our stories to be heard and remembered.

  76. Christi! Great post!

    The moment you mentioned flash fiction, I just knew I had to share a site I stumbled across with you. http://5x5fiction.blogspot.com/ (not my site, nor am I affiliated)

    It looks like a small operation right now but I imagine it’s going to get pretty popular and with a little elbow grease your writing would fit right in. I plan on participating and haven’t been able to stop telling my writing buddies about it – all these little short stories are so inspirational.

    Check it out!

  77. oh my…80k words… Not something that I can do. But for you, probably no problem. Good luck to that!

  78. I can’t look at 80K. But I can look at 800 words. Make it bite-sized. Congrats on your Pressing!

  79. Before I learned proper form, verse and economy; I would right poems of ridiculous lengths (Thanks Tolkien). Now, my poetry is far more compact and I am a better writer for it.

  80. many people like to live in the within reach but in the other side many people like living enjoy with the big house with complicated accessories

  81. i myself prefer the shorter stuff for the simple reason ….it takes less time.

  82. So many great comments here. Thanks everyone! I love your tips, the links some of you are providing, and the chance to check out a host of new blogs.

    A couple of people mentioned NaNoWriMo. The story I’m working on right now developed out of my first dive into the NaNo experience (I did hit the 50K mark that year). What’s different now is that I’m working more on structure and plot development, which didn’t unfold during that initial draft. That being said, I love NaNoWriMo and wouldn’t be where I am, as a writer, without it.

  83. Read “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Thomas Pynchon…it’ll change your idea of what a novel has to be…

  84. I think stringing a series of flash pieces would work. After you’ve broken down the story, into bite sized chucks. Each morsel with its own focus on a specific situation. Then sewing it back together, piece by piece. Once reassembled and cleaned up, in it’s best Sunday suit, it will be ready for its viewing.

  85. So true! I think you’ve hit every point that most writers go through. Personally, to get through my novel instead of writing the chapters in order, go through and write different scenes. It’s like mini stories, but you get to plot and plan little things along the way as you go.

    • I recently picked up Roz Morris’ Nail Your Novel, which has been a great help so far. She suggests using note cards for writing down scene ideas, which certainly lends itself to writing scenes and not focusing on chapters. Lately, the best thing I’ve done for myself is to find ways to let go of a strict plan of action. That frees up my mind to be more creative and ideas for that murky middle (where I’ve been stuck) flow a little easier.

      • I do understand what you mean when you say that lwtting go off a POA frees up your mind but i’m finding it sooo difficult to concentrate. i get a couple of thoughts which sound gud but in no way can my gray cells help me when i’m trying to connect it to the main idea!!!!

  86. I think wordcounts are a symptom of structure-itis. If you can work without a net, just allow the story to be what it is. In the end, it will tell you if it’s a novel, a short story … a text message. Never forget,it’s YOUR story. There are no rules. By the way, I think NANO is a blast too.

  87. I’m trying to wrtie a novel, actually. It is difficult.
    I started it about three~four years ago, reached 24,000 words, rewrote it, and left it again at 6,000. The length itself wasn’t my problem – but I didn’t know what to do with the plot. I could have just continued writing and hope for the best, but I felt it wasn’t good enough.
    Meanwhile, I worked on the world in which the novel itself was set; the characters, places, history, etc. – I even wrote a few short stories set in this world, or actual ‘scenes’ from the novel itself, even though I still don’t have a plot. And now, that I have this entire world, I have no idea where to begin or end the plot.

    So yes, I agree, writing a novel is hard – not becasue of the length – if it were the problem, as you said, then we could have just treated it as a series of short stories. The problem is with handling this ‘love-affair’.

    I actually publish here and there things about the Third Dimension (the world I mentioned): http://dewnestry.wordpress.com/writings/

    P.S.
    Interesting post ^^

  88. I love working on my novel, but there are mornings when the whole task can feel a bit overwhelming. Much like most things worth doing, I guess.

  89. Pingback: Too Many Things « ersatz esoterica

  90. Hey Christi,
    I’d rather talk of tiny tiny quarters:-p
    you write flash fictions and short stories!!! How damn cool is THAT. For an amateur writer like me its very difficult to write smaller pieces of fiction. I always find it more difficult to put in a punch in a short story. To write anovel is better, maybe because it takes so much time and imagination to whip up plots and stories that you find your bearing somewhere! In a short story i always have difficulty. Thats why my blog usually has factual stuff and not fictional. I wish i turn out to be writer who doesnt make people puke:-(

  91. Glad I found your blog. I have not moved to writing short stories or novels, yet. This step is in the near future. As a reader, I prefer stories with some detail. But, not too much. Sometimes I don’t have a lot of time to read, which is why I like a fast-paced story I can come-and-go from without a lot of backtracking to remember what’s happening.

  92. Great blog entry! I actually had never considered that a writer would have this problem. I’m the complete opposite. Everything idea I come up with is a mammoth epic that feels impossible to trim down. My last novel ended up being 300,000 words and I have no idea how to trim it down to a solicitable size. When I write short stories, they always end up running over, and I find myself trying to squeeze in extra scenes and details.

    • 300,000! Phew! That makes me think of how writing is similar to running. My husband runs ultramarathons, and I…do nothing. I always wish I had just a smidgen of his motivation!

  93. Great blog here! you are such a good writer and i think i would love to be in the open and not in the close. Writing a novel? not just anybody can wake one morning and start writing a novel. It takes some skills and experience to do such while sometimes its just a gift from God the father but i think writing a novel is a really good thing to engage so that people could benefit from your work and entertain their minds on the long run.
    when i write poems its seem very interesting to others who read them and i am encouraged to writ more works.

  94. An idea? Write your novel as a short story, read and examine, look for themes you could expand upon? I wrote a clandestine novel that began as short stories which then bound together to take on a longer form.

    Size doesn’t matter. Borges wrote plenty of concise short stories. I was always impressed with the econonmy of ‘The Ethnographer” and wrote something like a twenty page paper for a Spanish lit class on that particular short story that is barely a page in length. Then I took some anthropology classes and realized nobody knew shit and the trend was to fill fifty pages with a concept that could be thorougly examined in a single paragraph.

    Is a novel necessary? Bruno Traven, E.A. Poe, Gogol and many others preferred short story form. Jim Harrison’s natural turf is the novella. Forced anything usually equals not too special. Many poems could be ten-page short stories or epic novels but most likely do much more damage in the form they originally manifested in.

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m a big fan of discussions on the writing process, and the variation from one person to the next.

  95. Though I can’t reply to every comment here, I am reading them all. To those who feel overwhelmed with the idea of writing a novel (but really want to write one), or who are struggling with plot and structure, I just picked up two great books:

    Nail Your Novel by Roz Morris, which is a great book for anyone with just an idea or with the beginnings of a draft.

    Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell. I have only read pieces of this book, but I know it’s good.

    And, thanks again to everyone for sharing your experiences here!

  96. Hi Christi,
    I found your blog today and enjoyed reading this latest post. I have space issues, too, and just finished my blog entry about my ideal studio work space being large – probably because I have a small work space right now. I like flash fiction and the short story, too. I can’t wrap my head around a novel – 80,000 words?!
    Looking forward to reading more from you.
    Lynn

  97. Writing two pages a day, write everyday. Eventually it will become 80,000 plus. Focus on the story the telling of the story, not the number of words, the length….. pull the story from within, and the book will appear. I loved your analogy of the small spaces, I truly relate to your expressed feelings of “small spaces” and having a strong respect for making the best of space, because, I feel that making the best of your space is just as important as making the best of your time. And we all have heard and know that time is money….

  98. What is great post! :) ( http://neonone.tk )

  99. Just came across your blog entry. An exceptional short read. :D Runs totally parallel to my idea of a short story as well. Looking forward to reading more from you.

  100. Your post inspired me to write this one (below). I feel your pain, but lots of writers would envy your problem. Best of luck, and congrats on FP!

    http://jamieonpaper.com/2011/06/23/to-make-a-long-story-short-or-not/

  101. Hey Christi,
    I’d rather talk of tiny tiny quarters:-p
    you write flash fictions and short stories!!! How damn cool is THAT. For an amateur writer like me its very difficult to write smaller pieces of fiction. I always find it more difficult to put in a punch in a short story. To write anovel is better, maybe because it takes so much time and imagination to whip up plots and stories that you find your bearing somewhere! In a short story i always have difficulty. Thats why my blog usually has factual stuff and not fictional. I wish i turn out to be writer who doesnt make people puke:-(

  102. It depends on the preference of the writer . For me I prefer to create brief , short , concise but complete writing . But I sometimes do love Long story because if someone get really into reading it, they surely dig deeper , internalize , fell in love and give themselves in the story as if it is a part of their life.. and thats how you create an impact as an author . =D

  103. Pingback: Good stuff from this week: Linky Link Roundup « Kristin Offiler

  104. Strangely enough, most of my stories begin as narrative poems (I’m a poet at heart), and I usually find the need to expand them into short stories. Most of my stories are under 2,000 words anything above that makes me nervous. I just recently started a prose poetry book composed of miniature vignettes following the life of one character. I was inspired by a book called “madeleine is sleeping” http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2004_ssbynum.htm

    For those who haven’t read it and enjoy prose poetry/flash fiction, this book is a must!

  105. I know the feeling of this pretty well. I went from poetry to short fiction and then tried a novel that ended up a novella (around 30,000 words). but I was very happy with the end result, and I think that’s the most important part. For me, I navigated the space by using detail. Not a lot, but in the same way you’d look at a movie. There’s a lot there, but what do you focus on? What do you want people to see the second time they’re there? I think the important thing though is to write until you think the story you want to tell is finished. Then you can fatten it up, or trim it back. Anyway, good luck!

    • More than once, I’ve read how screenwriting and novel writing parallel each other, and that writers can learn a lot by studying the techniques used in writing screenplays.

      Thanks for your comment!

  106. Pingback: Thursday’s Top Ten | Marcia Richards….Married With Stories

  107. I actually had to move from long form to short for a fiction workshop class I took this past spring semester. I was so used to fleshing out ideas for longer stories that when I had to write a short story, I just kind of froze. But I found my way into the art of arcing the short story. It was difficult, but I got the hang of it. There’s still lots of room for improvement, though.

  108. Pingback: Navigating Space in Writing (via Writing Under Pressure) « Webster's Blogging

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