Friday, November 7, 2014

Pick Your Poison: Short Stories, Series Novel or Standalone

Which do you prefer writing; short stories, standalone novels or series? Why?

by Paul D. Marks

Each form comes with its own set of challenges. But with each there’s the thrill of starting something new. And then with each you reach a point where you just wish it was done and you were on to the next thing.  It’s sort of like starting a project around the house. At first you’re all eager and pumped. You can’t wait to see the results. But about halfway through you wish you’d never started it and just want to be on the couch watching an old black and white movie like Double Indemnity or Out of the Past, eating pizza and wishing you could write something like that.

Short stories have the challenge of doing it all in a short time.  You have to weave everything together in a small amount of space.  And in some ways this is the most challenging thing to do. As a “pantster,” I find myself writing way too much and then spending most of my time editing and cutting out the fat. Short stories have to be pithy and get to the point without a lot of extraneous details. But at the same time you need to make the little details pack an extra punch, so you have to be meticulous in picking the right words, actions and characters.

Series novels present their own challenges. What comes to mind first is the task of keeping the series character/s interesting and growing.  In the first book you’re setting everything up and intro’ing everyone so everything is new and fresh to you, the writer, as well as the reader. But by book nine what do you do? Check out some of your favorite series where the plots and characters seem to have grown tired.  Or is it just the author who’s grown tired? And though I only have one novel published, I do have the sequel written (the reason that it hasn’t been published yet is a long, winding and torturous road, best left for another time).  But in the sequel it was a challenge to be consistent with what had taken place in the first novel. Sort of like being the continuity person on a movie set and having to make sure the vase of flowers is in the same position as before when you change camera angles in a scene. Plus you have to backfill a little on the plot and characters in the previous novel/s for people who missed earlier entries in the series. And there is an art to doing that without it reading like a laundry list or boring the reader with exposition.

Standalone novels can be fun because, unlike a short story, you have the freedom to develop plot and characters, the way you did with the first book in your series.  You’re inventing a new world from the ground up and that’s always exciting. Whereas in a series you sort of already have some things worked out for you – you know the character and the setting and you have a starting point (usually the end of the previous book) so you have something to work with.

As to which I prefer, basically whatever I’m working on at the moment...until I get tired of it and then I prefer what’s next at bat and start working it up in my head, and go after that one with all my enthusiasm...until...

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And for a little BSP. I’ll be at Bouchercon next week. Here’s my sked:

Thursday: 4pm, Regency D. “Short But Mighty––The Power and Freedom of the Short Story.” With fellow Criminal Mind Art Taylor.  And Travis Richardson (M), Craig Faustus Buck, Barb Goffman, Robert Lopresti.

Friday: 6:30pm: The Shamus Awards banquet, where I’ll be a presenter.

Saturday: 2:30-3:30, signing books for Down and Out Books in the book room.

Come by and say hello.


Meredith Cole said...

Wish I were going to B'con this year and could hang out with you, Paul! Would love to see your panel with Art--I'm sure it will be full of wit and wisdom!

Robin Spano said...

Ditto what Meredith said. Have fun at Bouchercon, and here's to a future year when I meet you there.

GBPool said...

Short stories, series, stand alone... They each have things in common, but they let you exercise different muscles, and working in all three makes you a very well-rounded writer. I don't have a favorite. Enjoy Bouchercon.

Stephen Buehler said...

I like to do both but they affect me differently. A short story feels like I'm telling a good funny joke which I like to do. The reaction to the reader is quicker. Writing a novel is like telling a good long story where I feel I affect the reader differently, more powerfully. The feeling I hope to invoke lasts longer than a joke.

RJ Harlick said...

Have a fab time at Bouchercon, Paul. Wish I was going..sigh...Maybe next year.

Paul D. Marks said...

Meredith, Robin and Robin (and Batman too ;) ), wish you could all be at B’con too, get to meet live and hang out. But maybe next time or at Left Coast Crime or some other convention.

I think you’re right, Gayle. Storeis, series and standalones let us exercise different muscles, each with a challenge of their own that we have to try to meet. Wish you could be at B’con too.

And Stephen, I agree. They do affect us, and the reader, differently. Both can be powerful done right. And I like doing both, but sometimes a story that has a limited number of words can be really challenging, in a good way.