FLEXING THOSE WRITING MUSCLES: FROM NOVEL TO SHORT STORY

28 August 2014

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themessengercover


It’s good for all writers to flex their writing muscles and as a writer who has only ever written novels, I wanted to turn my hand to writing a short story, So I wrote The Messenger, an ebook short that was released mid-August. I’m of the opinion that short fiction is a different art to novel writing. There is often talk – and has been for decades – that you learn your craft by writing short fiction before stepping up to novel writing. I’m not sure that learning to write a good short story will necessarily help you to create better novels, and vice versa. Writing anything helps you get better at writing, of course, whether that’s descriptions in a notebook or snippets of dialogue and so forth, but I’m not convinced there’s a direct bridge between short fiction and novel, certainly from a creative point of view. Though I do footnote this with every writer is different.

When it came to writing The Messenger, a short story based on characters I’d already created for the novel Drakenfeld, I wasn’t exactly struggling, but I found the act certainly challenging in a different way to what I was used to.

I like the broad, blank canvas at the start of a project. I like the fact that I've got tens of thousands of words to write, to flesh out a world, to create and deepen characters. These are things I find relaxing, it’s what I enjoy about the creative process. I’m particularly fond of watching sub-plots wander off only to return with a thump, or setting wheels in motion for a later pay-off, or layering theme upon theme, or plot upon plot, to give a satisfying complexity to a world. To create something that I hope could be considered so thoroughly real, that the reader might believe stories are still going on even when the book has long been closed.

All of this falls apart for me when it comes to writing a short story. Especially for one that uses characters I’d already created for a novel. I had to remain true to the series and the world. This wasn’t really a chance for experimentation. I suspect my short fiction experience here is slightly different to that of others, but perhaps some of the principles are the same.

A short story, of course, is not a reduced novel, but the economy of the craft forced me to focus on a simple theme, a story that could be told elegantly and with minimalism. There was no room for ridiculous depths and sub-plots and twists had to be used sparingly. Drakenfeld and Leana’s characters could not have their backstories recounted fully. There was far more show than tell to get across who they were – and no, this is not a rule I particularly agree with (and neither does Ursula Le Guin so there). 

The scope and size of a plot, too, needed to be boiled down to something that could be dealt with appropriately in 9,000 words instead of over 100,000. Therefore I had to design a crime plot where a lot of it had to happen in the background rather than be experienced by the characters. However, I also found that, because this was appended to Drakenfeld, I had room to deepen the novel for those who had read it (the story is about a referenced incident in the book), whilst still enabling the story to be read on its own. 

Despite feeling out of my comfort zone, I’m glad I went through the exercise. I feel I turned out another interesting and exciting adventure, albeit one in miniature form, whilst learning new skills along the way. We’re always learning, after all, and always seeking ways to improve – even if it’s not always clear when and how those skills will manifest again. 

The Messenger is available from all e-retailers. 

As an Officer of the Sun Chamber, Lucan Drakenfeld must uphold the two-hundred-year-old laws of the Vispasian Royal Union, whatever the cost. 

While stationed in the ancient city of Venyn, a metropolis notorious for its lawless nature, Drakenfeld receives a series of mysterious letters, written in blood, that warn of an imminent assassination attempt on the life of the city's young Prince Bassim. 

Supported by his fiery colleague Leana, Drakenfeld's investigation leads him down the city's corridors of power. But nothing is as it seems. Who is behind the conspiracy that threatens the young prince, and will the duo be able to unearth the perpetrator before the prince's time is up?

For more posts by Mark Charan Newton, click here