"Which do you prefer writing; short stories, standalone novels or series? Why?"
- from Susan
Since I’ve written one short story and four novels, I’ll go with novels. I didn’t know my first novel would launch a series until I got an agent, although by then I’d fallen in love with my main characters, so it was a relief to hear I wasn’t alone in wanting them to blunder on for at least another book. I just finished my first standalone and it’s not a murder mystery. The topic came to me rather suddenly. I don’t know if I’ll get struck by that particular lightening again, but I hope so.
I mostly enjoy reading novels, which may be a holdover from childhood when I never wanted the book to end. But I recently read a lot of crime fiction short stories, 134 to be exact, for a competition, and I learned a few things about them:
- - “Short” is a relative term. These ranged from about 1,500 words to 50,000 and no one length had an aesthetic edge over another. Historicals tended to be longer and no wonder; there’s a lot of scene setting to do.
- - They use all of crime fiction’s sub-genres and a lot of the clichés, perhaps because they have to move into action so quickly that shortcuts are useful.
- - The crimes were major, and felt particularly brutal, and I wondered if that was because there’s less space to hint, tease, lead the reader slowly into the darkest places in the story.
- - There was very little, almost no, humor in the submissions. They tended to be dark, twisty, and lacking the kinds of endings where justice is meted out.
I had thought, when I agreed to participate in the panel, that I might find myself inspired to write more short stories by reading so many. What I learned, though, is that writing good short stories is hard. Give me an 80,000-word book any day! We have some wonderful short story writers on the Minds panel, and I can't wait to hear how they pull it off.