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Short vs Long

Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Give me a choice between a single title novel and an anthology -- and I'll choose the anthology every time.

Why is that? What is it about the short story/novella length that has such an appeal? I know that those with more limited leisure time say that it's nice to be able to read an entire story on their lunch break. But my life is less structured. I can, on days when the house looks like people instead of pigs live here, sit and read an entire novel if I choose.

So why would I choose an anthology? I've always been a short story reader. I sympathize with Rudyard Kipling, who wrote brilliant short works to critical acclaim, yet forever bemoaned the fact that he was incapable of sustaining that kind of storytelling ability in a full length novel.

Mark Twain's longer novels have never interested me, but I've read countless short stories. Bitter Ambrose Bierce, who should never be read on a gray day, attracts the dark side as does Poe, whose Cask of Amontillado still gives me shivers.

There is a difference between a short story and a novella that has little to do with length. A short story is more of a slice of time and its most important feature is the twist in the tail. A short story that simply ends is like a joke where you give away the punch line too early. The story structure is simple and there's little room for deep characterization and intense description. It's all about the story.

The novella is a balance between short story and novel. I recently finished a plotting workshop where we wrote the first scene and the black moment. Then we filled in 4 major plot points, then we were supposed to find 10 smaller plot points. Whoa there! If I could do that, I guess I would have a novel. But the story I'm telling is much simpler than that.

There's more room for characterization, for description, for emotional tension. I can introduce secondary characters and even a small subplot. There's space for down time after intense scenes, but it's still all about the story.

After the spate of anthologies I've read recently, I believe I can state that there are novelists and there are novella-ists. Some people can do both, but not as many as think they can. They either try to cram too much plot into a teeny space, or they think "Oh hey. This is where I can stick this one scene from my series that my editor made me cut."

A novella isn't just a slashed down novel, it's a form in its own right. I've read enough of them now that I can tell who respects the form and who's just marking time.
2/09/2005 07:50:00 AM : : Sela Carsen : : 1 Comments


You're so right, Sela. Writing a novella is an art. Done well they're little jewels, that sparkle, entince and give great pleasure. Done wrong and they're deadly. I prefer novel length myself, but there a definitely times when only a short story or novella, or poem, will do. That plotting workshop sounds interesting, btw.

By Blogger Jaye, at 8:22 PM  

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