Chapters vs short stories

A writer friend of mine occasionally takes a chapter from one of her books and fashions it into a short story which she then puts on the market. She’s managed to sell several of those tales. And, since she has developed a following for her novels, it’s a great way to tease her readers about soon-to-be-released material. If only I could make it work for me, too. [Sigh]

Alas, I’ve had precisely no luck with this at all, despite spending a significant amount of time trying. I just can’t get it to work. My novel chapters typically weigh in at around four thousand words, so length isn’t usually a problem. Most magazines will consider up to 5K without too much hesitation.

The problem, I’m convinced, is that my novels typically have multiple storylines. So coming up with a single chunk of related material means carving scenes from various places and either sewing ’em, or just squishing them, together. The issue then becomes figuring out how to introduce characters and conflicts from scenes which haven’t been included. Snip, snip, paste, paste, and voila! The result is something snipped and pasted that has all the appeal of fresh poodle squeeze.

Obviously, it can be done. My friend’s efforts prove it. I just don’t think it’s possible with my own stuff. Which kinda makes me grumpy. In fact, it tends to make me think I should write in a simpler style, say one voice and one point of view. Maybe just one storyline. So, okay: Joe goes here, Joe goes there. Joe gets tangled up with some babe from the hood, maybe while he’s tracking down a bad guy for a suspicious client. But then the hot babe from the bad side of the tracks turns out to be an undercover agent who’s actually looking for him. And then….

See the problem? I already want to know more about the suspicious client and the undercover gal. And why would anyone be investigating Joe, my point of view character, who’s really a sweet guy and who wouldn’t even think of breaking a law, except for that one time when….

psycho1And suddenly my personal MAC (Motive, Action, Consequence) hamster wheel is off on a vision quest of its very own, and will soon be careening into the unknown and well beyond anyone’s control. Joe’s story will become the basis for book one of a new series; there will be all the usual novelish stuff: violence, revenge, outrage, passion, sex, mistaken identities, ice cream binges, misplaced trust, etc., and my dreams of turning a simple project into a simpler one will evaporate like manners at a food fight.

All of which is to say, that if I need to write a short story, I’ll just write a damned short story. It’ll take a whole lot less time and effort than writing a novel I can break into marketable pieces. Clearly, my female writer friend is a genius, and I should never again be tempted to duplicate her literary/surgical successes.

Instead, I’ll stick to doing my own thing. There’s probably an object lesson in there for all my other writer friends. If you’re one of ’em, I hope you can find it.

–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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8 Responses to Chapters vs short stories

  1. polinto says:

    My book group read History of Wolves by Fridlund. She had won acclaim for her short story which was the first chapter. When she made a novel out of it, it was not very satisfying.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Amanda says:

    Agreed! If you just wrote Joe-only books, it wouldn’t be you :-)…

  3. I couldn’t do it. I have a hard enough time forcing a short story to remain a short story, which is why I don’t have many under my belt.

  4. Gerald W. Flinchum says:

    Hmmm! Maybe I’m having second thoughts about doing it, but may give it a try to cut a non-fiction event out of a book project and turn it into a novel. Then again may just stick to my coloring book & crayons!

  5. nativeson49 says:

    Dadgum it, Josh! You said it would be so easy in class!

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