Wednesday, December 19, 2007

On Novels and Short Stories

I deeply admire those who can write novels. Who can weave a complex tapestry of destinies and happenings, of loves and adventures, of feelings and action, of ideas.

I used to try doing just that.

Since I was – maybe – twelve and until a few years ago, I have always been writing novels… I would always enthusiastically start a new one and then a while later abandon it only to start work on another. I couldn’t conceive writing anything but novels. Short stories seemed insignificant to me, compared to the scope of a novel. But then I realised that I was never finishing anything and that, no matter how deeply I was living in those novels, it would have been nice to actually finish something at some point. That plus the realisation of how cruel time is.

So I started working on short stories. Those gave me at least the illusion of a much closer (in time) ending and thus of a chance at publication.

Yet, it didn’t take me less to write them. I suppose that is the effect of several factors. In no particular order, among them I would place the lack of time dedicated to writing, the absence of will power leading to procrastination, a tendency to perfectionism leading to profound research and endless plot tweaking even for the shortest of stories, maybe even the fear that once finished I will have to leave this world I’m building. I also noticed that the more detached I am from the characters, the easier it is for me to write their story. The more involved I am with them, including making myself a character, the more difficult it is to complete a work.

This (again) extended time frame, led me to a somehow bad experience with one of my most beloved stories. The idea for it came to me in ’97 (I know because I always put a date on the notes I scribble down) and, on and off, it took me till 2005 to put the magical words ‘the end’ at the bottom of the last page. At about 22,000 words, it’s more of a novella size story. I was very proud of it and ready to start sending it out, although magazines hardly accept works of such a size. And then I bought Orson Scott Card’s excellent book “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” and in there, in a chapter where he enumerates various means of time travel, I found my idea listed under a famous author’s name who, obviously, had already published a (different) story based on the same idea, in ’99 I believe. What a dreadful coincidence! I was so terribly, awfully, hopelessly depressed.

But, hey, that’s life! The onus is on me to work harder, to work faster. To remind myself that I couldn’t live without writing and that, regardless of whether or not I will ever be a published writer, I will always be a writer. And, to thicken my skin.

I am now more afraid than ever to even consider working again on a novel. There is a harsh world out there. Moonrat’s wonderfully insightful posts about the world of publishing confirm something that I half-knew and fully suspected.

As the New Year approaches, I wonder if I should make a resolution…


Akasha Savage said...

You must definitely make that write so well. And....the only difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is: the published writer didn't give up. ;)

Ello said...

You are such a talented writer that for you not to keep writing would be a crime. And you cannot allow a similar story idea to stop you from trying to publish your own. There are no real original ideas out there, it is the differences in how people execute the same stories that are important. Do not let that depress you or stop you. Just write. short story or novel, whatever grabs you and keeps you up at night with ideas. Don't worry that someone else might have the same idea. Just write and be true to yours. I hope to read your published work some day soon.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Ello on the "you cannot allow a similar story idea to stop you from trying to publish your own".

The idea isn't the important part, it's the execution of that idea is what counts.

Emperor Ropi said...

You need the experience, knowledge, brain and inspiration to write a novel. Patience is also important.

Church Lady said...

I was going to say the same thing as Ello. It's all in the execution.
Miss Snark used to say that there are maybe six real plots in the world. It's how we craft those plots that make our stories unique.

You have a completed story that's ready to go. I think you should send it out, when you're ready. There are a lot of rejections in this process, but there are also success stories. I just received an email from a friend who got a short story published in an equestrian magazine. She just started writing about a year ago, and it comes right before her 50th birthday.

Vesper said...

Akasha, Ello, Paul, Church Lady, I thank you from my heart for your words of encouragement. They mean immensely to me. You are wonderful!
I see this post came out as whiny although I don’t think that was really my intention. Hmmm…
All of you have written or are writing a novel. Hat off to you! I might start doing that again as soon as I can climb from the pit where my spirit has descended (the short days of winter and some hormones at work, I wonder :-) ). I’m glad for your friend, Church Lady - just in time for her birthday!

Ropi, you’ve said it! Bravo! And you made me smile...:-)

Bernita said...

You must.
You create such beauty.
You must.

Emperor Ropi said...

What was that funny?

Anonymous said...

I'll join the chorus. Send that story out! I have no doubt that even if 20 people used the same premise, yours would still be unique.

SzélsőFa said...

Unless it's completely the same as the one published BEFORE your version, which I doubt, go for it!

moonrat said...

hey! thanks for the plug. but now is NOT the time to give up on novel writing. forget about what other people are writing; everything's been written before, anyway, so what matters is that you do it well. besides, i'm a closet novel writer myself. none of them will ever be published, but they are far more likely to see the light of day than anything else (like short stories or poetry or personal essays) that i might be inspired to write. and besides, creating a world leaves you with SUCH a high.

obsidianesper said...

I understand the discipline problem. making yourself sit down with an idea and write every day. It's hard, and you have published writers saying 'if you dont write at least 4 hours a day you'll get nowhere' , when in truth that's a load of crap. if you start on january 1 with an idea for a novel, spend 15 minutes a day writing, for a year, and you'll have a novel. write for more time a day or not, but at least 15 minutes a day, it can be a paragraph or a page, you're still getting stuff written every day, which gives you a constant feeling of accomplishment. you actually feel like you're getting stuff done. and as for ideas being done already...every idea has been done before. the catch is taking an already used idea, and writing it your way, a different way than it's been seen. just because your idea's been written before doesn't mean yours isn't capable of being published. if they ignored every story that had an already used idea, books would've stopped being made like 50 years ago. keep at it and you can get a novel done and get it published, it just takes determination to get it done, and then the right research to get it published.

Jeff said...

You have the talent, Vesper. I agree with the others. Submit your work. :)

Taffiny said...

My words echo everyone else's.

I had a like experience lately, were the similarities between my Echo and a novel made into a movie, I was watching, really upset me, and knocked the forward momentum right out of me. Even the word echo, was repeated in it, and defined, for the same exact reason it is the title of my story. It was almost creepy made me think of that saying "someone walking over my grave".

I was bummed, and really mad at myself, wondering why it takes me so long to finish anything, surely the idea had come to me first, but I was too slow pokey. (not that my version would have been publishable first anyway)

But after talking it over with Bob, and really looking at the two stories, from different angles, I realized a big chunk of the message is the same, and even some of the methods, but still they are two different stories. All sorts of other elements are woven in.

Yours is already written, so I think you owe it to yourself, and to your story to send it out, to give it a chance to be heard (known) in the world.

Also I like similar stories. I love Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. I like Emma, and the modern movie version Clueless. I like different versions of the same song.

I have to go forward with mine, as far as I can go,
I belief the same holds true for you.

Let it not be you who tells yourself no.

When you think the world is telling you no, keep knocking, keep trying. If after much time, and thinking, you feel it is God/universe telling you no, this is not for you, then maybe it is time you should look into finding other things and ways to be. But when you are searching around, looking, deciding who and what you might be, and might become in this world, make sure you are not the one who says no.

Don't say no to your own dreams.

So make that resolution and get out some stamps.

Anonymous said...

If you have to ask, dear Vesper, then the answer is yes. Your fans out here will undoubtedly say yes, but the yes, of course, has to come from you.

I think you need to write, be it whatever form it takes. Write and write some more. And then write more.

Happy Christmas.

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

I have a quote on my wall which says, "If I'm not getting rejected, I'm not reaching far enough." As a writer one learns to develop a thick skin and persistence.

As for ideas and originality - there are, it would seem, no new ideas but there are multiple ways of interpreting the same ideas over and over again - it's what we all do. I think even though you have spotted a similarity in someone else's work, you shouldn't let that stop you from sending your own work out. You can bet you've handled it differently, have different characters and a different plot structure - that's quite enough to make it significantly different.

You write beautifully, Vesper, you owe it to yourself and your stories to keep writing and to start submitting that which you have written.

Another of my wall quotes says:
"Stay centred, envision and don't give up. You will make your dreams reality if you continue to believe in your work." I'd say from all the comments here, everyone of us believes in you and your work, so... what are you waiting for!?

Vesper said...

Ropi - the word "brain" was funny to me, but in a good way. Thank you!

WOW! Bernita, Jason, Szelsofa, Moonrat, Obsidianesper(welcome!), Jeff, Taffiny, David, Vanilla I am truly impressed and overwhelmed with your kind answers, with your helpful advice, with your shared experiences and your warm encouragements. I thank you from my heart! :-)

Now I have to do it! :-) :-) :-)

Thank you, my dear friends!

Church Lady said...

I learn so much from you and others in the blogosphere. Thank you for your kind words. I almost want to say that I 'only' write children's stories, but I don't want to downplay how hard it is.
You still have to come up with a viable plot and develop your characters, etc. But the word length hovers around 40,000 for middle-grades. I could not imagine writing more than that.

My hat is off to all of you who are writing twice and three times that amount. It is hard work.

(But, I didn't come here to continue along that vein!)
I wanted to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas, and say how much I am enjoying getting to know you!


Ello said...

Just popped by to wish you a Merry Christmas and a blessed new year!

Anonymous said...

merry christmas, vesper!