“If I can’t maintain a reader’s attention for 12 to 15 pages, I sure as hell won’t hold it for 300…”
“Can’t. I’m working on the novel…” my friends have been saying.
It makes me suspect that I am doing something wrong. I, too, am working on a novel. But it is not for profit, nor under any due pressure. They are writing novels for submissions and serious inquiry, many of them hoping to be finished by the end of the year.
I’m taking my time, focusing more on short stories still. I work on the novel when I have a moment of lull, but short stories take precedence. And I fully accept that my novel is strictly a practice novel. Hell, I conceived a short story on Saturday night, sat down and wrote it. Then proofed and submitted it yesterday.
The reason, I had explained to my chum, was that it was all about reduced risk. To write a novel would mean to receive a very large yes or no. To write ten short stories, about the length of a novel, chops up the rejection risk among 10 small possibilities.
3 short stories getting “aye” is better than a novel getting a “nay”. Especially when you remember that a novel is a huge investment of time.
Granted, a book is something that needs to be done if I want to get serious about writing. But I still feel like short stories have a lot left to teach me. I’ve been writing short stories for more than a year now. And I know, not feel, know, that I’ve been getting better.
I don’t mind that the scant rewards they give maybe meagre compared to the rewards reaped by larger works.
A coworker of mine had an issue with his novel. He finished it, and people went on and on about wanting to read it. When he finally gave it to them, no one could find the time to invest in it. Me? I’ve never had too much trouble getting someone to read a short story. It takes anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes to read a short story.
That’s something most people can find time for. There’s something about smaller work that teaches you how to better grab and engage people. To keep them turning the pages, long after page 18.
If I can’t maintain a reader’s attention for 12 to 15 pages, I sure as hell won’t hold it for 300.
I learned that the hard way when I finished a novella earlier this year. 51 pages. Try as I might, it was hard to get people’s attention. I wondered if it was because the word “novella” was used that people were hesitant to invest their time. But to this day, only one person besides myself has read the whole thing.
While I won’t give up on it, I won’t rush into it either. Short stories are more than just a way to warm up. They’re a tool, a simple, effective instrument that allows one to discover many of the basics of story craft and master its many disciplines. Then, apply that to a larger and longer project.
At least that’s my plan. I hope success for my friends, but I feel the need to finish learning this first…