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Author Topic: Novel Writing Vs Short Story Writing
Member # 1955

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Somebody brought up an interesting point after they read the first 3 chapters of my WIP. While they really enjoyed it and are hungry for more, they noticed that my approach was the less is more approach, excising padding and details non-pertitant to the plot.

I think I've tried to implement suggestions and tips that called for compression, but those were intended for short story writing. I've tried to say much in as little as possible.

Novel writing evidently needs so much detail to where the reader can smell the air. This is kind of revelation to ignorant me, where I've tried sometimes not add details that the reader will derive at anyway.

Any thoughts?

[This message has been edited by ChrisOwens (edited March 30, 2005).]

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Member # 2267

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I want tight writing, no matter what I'm reading. If the smell of the air is relevant, tell me, and if not, I don't want to know.

Not all agree with me, but that's what I want. Since my novel is not yet published, I'm not proveably an expert, but I got up to novel length (and it was a long one) not by stopping to smell the sweet wafting scent, like a hint of a memory of a mroe genteel time, of the roses that graced the fulvous green hedgerows -- gag -- but by putting more in. I have had a critiquer say, "show me the setting! What do the walls look like? What's the hair color, etc., of the characters?" But that's not my taste. I'd rather show how the characters are afraid the monster will eat them, or whatever.

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Member # 2056

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Here's a way to look at novel writing:

Each chapter is a short story unto itself. Aside from cliffhangers, and unresolved plot details and stuff, it should be a self-contained little story. The setting should be clear if it hasn't already been described earlier. This doesn't mean go overboard with everything, but if a character has reason to notice something, then so be it. Sometimes, the beginning of a book or chapter is ideal for relating the scenery -- and sometimes it isn't. Some authors love flowery prose and revel in the details, and others (like Dan Brown) cut to the chase and just show you what is happening NOW!

But, aside from setting (which is debatably necessary), if something doesn't further character(s) development or the plot, it should be ruthlessly cut. Period. And that's fairly hard to do in any length story. We don't like cutting out parts because we put them in there. But the editing process is fairly cruel, and our hearts break when we cut out some of our favorite lines -- but they add nothing to story, so they must go.

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited March 30, 2005).]

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Member # 2055

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I’m also from the less is more camp. There is a quote I like by an author, (I can’t remember who) who when asked how he wrote such compelling stories said “I leave out the parts people skip.” (Note: I googled it and found it was Elmore Leonard)

That being said, I do think there is a place for detail in a novel and it can certainly enrich the story and bring the experience to life for the reader. But it has to be done well, or for me it detracts from the reading experience and I would rather do without it. I can’t stand when I am reading and the action comes to a stop, the writer inserts a long paragraph of description and then continues with the action. It really disrupts the reading experience for me. Good, tight prose, that weaves in relevant description without stopping the action for an info-dump <shudder> keeps me reading.

I also think part of is has to do with what kind of story you are writing. If you are writing a character story or milieu story (even in a short story form) the reader expects more detail and description. You want to show them your world or your character in vivid detail because that is the focus of the story.

Event stories are more focused on the plot and action and anything that doesn’t move the story along should probably be minimized or cut. You need enough description for the reader to understand what is going on, but don’t bog them down in minutia.

But then again, what do I know? It still says New Member under my name…

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Member # 213

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If there's a reason for it to be in there, it should be in there, whether you're writing a short story or an epic trilogy that will go to eleven.

If there isn't a reason for it to be in there, then it shouldn't be. Same range.

Stories are a bit like balloons. Anything that isn't helping you rise is keeping you from rising as high as you could. The difference is that in a balloon there are other considerations than rising as high as possible.

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less is more for me, too. novels are long enough without padding and extraneous stuff.

The amount of detail you use - the rule is very simple. Use exactly as much as you need - no more, and no less. If you put in no descriptive details, your characters are floating around in a nondescript space; if you put in too many, you're spending the whole novel describing doilies and your characters are buried in words.

I disagree that each chapter should function as a short story. i mean, there should be a beginning and a middle and an end etc but if you try to write each chapter so that it can stand alone without the rest of the novel, you will run into problems.

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Sometimes it seems that people make novels longer by adding more words rather than more plot. A novel differs from a short story in scope: there is greater conflict, more character dynamics, more complicated problems, and there is even room for related su-plots.

That said, most of the best-selling novels and most highly acclaimed novels ever seem to have the language rather than the plot. If they have both they are termed epic fantasy and take ten 700-page books to finish.

I prefer substance, but as I noted it doesn't necessarily seem that's what sells a novel. I also think there is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained here. Sometimes those extra words aren't just words...they create mood, atmosphere, and provide telling details that show rather than tell us who are heroes and villains are.

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Member # 1955

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This is starting to fall under the same thread as the one where we discussed Jordan and his genre. I never could get past the first page of the first Wheel of Time book.

My thoughts have grown to be, why should the viewpoint character describe his wife? He's sees her every day. But he only walks to his brother's grave once a year and when he does it on the day of his grandfather's funeral and meets the man that changes his life for the worse... he remembers a bit more of that.

I did get, long time ago, 'What do his cousins look like?' Well... my thoughts were if I begin to describe them, then the reader will expect them to be relavant to the plot.

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Member # 2387

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The viewpoint character might not sit down and give you a couple of paragraphs describing his wife's beautiful stormy eyes, but he might mention in passing that she gave him a Look, and he could see in those stormy blue eyes that this was one fight he wasn't going to win.

In other words, put in what the character notices, where and when he notices it. And keep in mind that some people can't abide not knowing what color your character's eyes are, and others (like me) probably won't notice if you never mention it, since they've got their own mental picture that they cling to. You've got to strike a balance, so that both people keep reading.

[This message has been edited by Jaina (edited March 30, 2005).]

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Member # 2056

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I disagree that each chapter should function as a short story. i mean, there should be a beginning and a middle and an end etc but if you try to write each chapter so that it can stand alone without the rest of the novel, you will run into problems.

Not necessarily arguing, Beth... but...

Isn't a chapter a "section" of a book. A stand alone story in itself. Sure, it's not complete, but it's a fully realized scene or two or three. Many of us read stories by chapters. We stop at a chapter, because not only it's convenient, but it's an ending to a scene. It may not be resolved, it may be a cliffhanger thing, but it's still an ending to a scene.

Though, I concede, some people start their next chapter immediately where the last left off. That's valid; it depends. Chapter breaks are sometimes arbitrary... often there deliberately inserted.

My point is that each chapter is a self-contained unit -- a part of the larger picture, but perfectly presented in a way to satisfy a reader, who can then put the book down with something more to look forward tomorrow or later in the day. Each chapter is a story -- not the whole story -- but a story. It's the simplest way of looking at it. But this doesn't mean resolve everything in a chapter... far from it. It means only that everything that needs to be covered has been covered; questions were answered; new questions asked; some questions linger...

Dictionary.com defines it well, in defintion number 2, which isn't the definition of a book's chapter, but hey-ho, I like it better. The definition reads:

A distinct period or sequence of events, as in history or a person's life.

Well, I can't argue with that...

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Member # 1374

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Seems to me there are many variations of style in novel writing, and some are more verbrose than others. The detail level seems to me to be more an issue of style than the story form, though a novel can absorb a more detailed, description ladened style much better results than a short story.
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Forty years ago I used to wonder how people could enjoy loosely written novels with lots of excessive description. This was about the time I had graduated from formula fiction to real fiction.

Things changed but I never knew why until I met OSC. He mentioned he had trouble reading other writers' work. IIRC he mentioned they didn't hold his interest beyond the place where he figured out where the plot was going, which was usually early.

A good exciting novel isn't like a subway car, barreling along in the dark in its singleminded direction down a carefully prepared track, illuminating one predicatble station after another. It is like a light plane bouncing all over the sky so you never know how things will end until you finally get it home.

[This message has been edited by keldon02 (edited March 31, 2005).]

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ChrisOwens, did your reader complain about it or just notice it? I ask because sometimes I've had readers give a comment like that but really mean something else.

I struggled for a while with the phrase, "More characterization" so I added reactions and descriptions. I finally realized when someone complimented a line with "nice characterization" that the difference between that character reaction and all of the others was that it was specific to the character.

I'd been filling things with, "Huang felt his heart racing and tried to control his breathing," when what my readers were looking for was, "Huang's heart rattled into a stacatto rhythm and he tried to calm himself by running through etudes in his head." Same emotion, same reaction, but a lens that is specific to my character.

Anyway, the point of that digression is to wonder if when people want "more description" they really just want the same amount but more specificity.

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Member # 2339

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All I want is to pick up a book and fall into it. I want my mind to completely leave the real world and take me on a ride. Sometimes, I want a short speedy sportscar and so I read a short story. But often, I want a world I can return to again and again, night after night, for an hour or so. I want the characters complex, the setting alive and the plot intriguing. That's when I want the novel, the luxury sedan designed for the long haul. I am willing to invest more time to get where I'm going and I like to have more detail to pay attention to.
I frequently read scenes beginning half way through when they should begin at the beginning. With a short story, I don't mind being jolted into a fast-paced situation, but with a novel, I want to be there from beginning to end.
My preference is to advise: Do NOT be afraid to add detail when it brings the story to life!

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Member # 1955

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<ChrisOwens, did your reader complain about it or just notice it? I ask because sometimes I've had readers give a comment like that but really mean something else.>

A tactful suggestion rather than complaint, to add more brush stokes and add shadow and depth, and less concise. I'm trying not to quote but as an example the person wanted to smell the air, know how the gravestone felt...

You bring up the classic point, when somebody says X, X might not be the problem, but Y is.

Sometimes somebody would say, it would be nice if you did such a such, I did it, and later I got tons of complaints...

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Stormlight Shadows
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Actually to when I start writing short stories they always seem to turn into not just a ten page they seem to turn into one-hundred and fiftes pages and go on and on. But when I try to write a novel they seem to have a precise ending that I want to get to that they happen. To much details when I start reading I just want to story to get on and on and on. Not to keep describeing the smell of the room or what the fireplace looks like. Who cares they have no significant deployment in the story.

All the detail does for me is destroy my imagnition on the story itself. For example the books I know are The Wheel of time and the much detail he gives and doesn't do anything with the story or the Order of the Pheonix in the Harry Potter Series. They have to much detail, find a good balance and remember that a short story brings the cliamx fast and resolves and a novel should have many small problems with one big one and the characters solve the small ones and the big one over the three book series or a little more or less.

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Sounds like most of you are lovers of character-driven stories. I'm not. I'm more interested in the world that I'm reading about. I want to know every little detail about it--what it looks like, what it smells like, sounds like, etc. I want to be completely immersed in it.

I'm the opposite of most of you. When I pick up a book that doesn't describe any of the setting hardly at all, I put it down. It's not worth it to me if I don't know what sort of the world the characters are in.

As I am an artist, I suppose that's understandable. I'm a very visual person, so if I don't know what something looks like, it drives me up the wall. I appreciate it when I can find a good book that details the setting.

For short stories, however, I don't mind not knowing what the setting is like. That's what separates them from novels, at least for me. To me, a novel that doesn't spend time describing the setting is just an extended short story, and I eventually get bored with it.

When I can read a novel that has a detailed description of the setting, I can see it clearly in my head and often, I want to draw or paint a picture of it (and if my painting skills were better, I'd be doing paintings of book settings right and left). I also think that setting can play on the emotions of the reader. An excellent description of the setting can make me feel joy, pain, anger, etc--sometimes even more so than the characters can. For example, if a writer just simply states that the scene awes the character and describes this awe that the character feels, I don't feel it with him. How can I if I don't really know what it is he's looking at? But if a writer says the character is awed and then goes on to describe in detail what it is the character is looking at, then I can feel the awe as well.

Again, I think it comes from me being an artist. I can look at a painting or sculpture and feel all the emotions contained within it whereas I feel next to nothing if I'm listening to the thoughts and feelings of a character. That's just me, though.

I understand people want some things left up to imagination, but my theory is that even if something is described in detail, there's still room to picture it the way you want to. An author, no matter how talented, will find it difficult to get his or her readers to see exactly the same things that he or she sees.

*shrugs* That's just my theory.

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Here, here, Shen! that's exactly how I feel.
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So, is the industry publishing enough of both types to satisfy all of us? Or are they relegating only books like fantasy and epic to detail, and funnelling the rest into the less is more school?
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