Monday, April 13, 2009

Making it longer

I've become pretty good at "short". Not just short stories, very very short stories. When I begin writing, because I have trained myself in flash, which means the process as well as the end product, I already have in mind that I will finish, will wrap up in this session. After 20 minutes, I will have a complete story in under 500 words.

This kind of writing trains you not to send out tendrils of plot in directions that you don't want to go in. It trains you to start closing in almost as you begin to open. There are few characters, there are no digressessions. This doesn't mean - as I wrote in my essay on flash writing for the Salt Guide to Writing the Short Story, which Vanessa Gebbie is editing and which is due for publication in August and should be fabulous - that a flash story has no depth, no plot, no description. Great flash somehow does manage to do all that in a tiny space. Just read Vestal Review, Elimae, Wigleaf, Pank magazine for excellent examples of how it's done.

But... something longer? I need to re-train myself. It's been two years or so since I've written a "full-length" short story, whatever that really means. I guess, over 2000 words. I'm out of the habit of creating those tendrils, of opening out instead of closing in. And I'd like to get that back. I'd like to be able to do that, because I miss the process of writing something longer - writing a section at a time, stopping, knowing not to push it, knowing that the next section will come when it is ready, in hours, days or weeks. Trusting that your character will tell you what happens next. Revising. Reworking. Thinking about structure.

After all the agent talk, I was inspired by a writing friend's comment (thank you, Joel!) to think about whether I might be able to go for 50,000 words instead of 500. I don't want to use the word "novel", because to me that implies something about one main arc of narrative, one large plot, and I don't right now have that kind of thing bubbling up in me. But a book-length work that is not separate stories? Some kind of set of pieces that connect, that overlap? Not stories that are forced to link, but something written as a non-traditional kind of longer work. Why not? I can still champion the short story even if I write long, right?

There is something I've been working on, a character I am intrigued by that I have been "following around", for the purposes, so I thought til a few days ago, of writing a screenplay. I can't write a screenplay from scratch, I don't plot. So I thought I'd get to know my character in a way I do know how to do, and find out what happens. But turns out that I rather like what is happening, the tone of the narrator that has turned up, the meanderings, and we are 2500 words in.... Now, the idea of a novel about my character is very very daunting. But somehow Joel's comment made me see how I can send out tendrils, expanding it story-wise without losing what I love about the short story: nothing unnecessary, no padding.

I started some of that wandering off the path this morning, and wrote 307 words. For me - that's a lot! To write 307 new words without finishing something. So, a while to go from 2800 to 50,000. But the door has been opened, the possibilities are there.

12 comments:

Nik's Blog said...

Sounds fab, T! ;)

Power to your typing fingers!

nmj said...

Exactly, Tania - the possibilities are there, whatever we write, however we write, the possibilities are there! I started with short stories (many years ago) and 'graduated' to my novel, it was energy that was my constraint, I didn't think I could sustain a longer narrative than a few thousand words, but slowly and surely the work took shape (over six years, and another two to get published!), the main drive being my passion to get a certain message out there. Wishing you luck in your new project. 2800 words is brilliant, I know you will get to your 50000...

David Erlewine said...

we're in the same place, Tania, as I want to write longer too from time to time. I have one coming up at Necessary Ficiton (So New) that's about 900. That's llllooonnnggg for me. Good luck and keep us posted!

Tania Hershman said...

Thanks, Nik!

Nasim, thank you for sharing your experience, I know that it may take a long long time, but what is the rush? You're right, as long as we have the passion, there are possibilities.

David, 900, wow that's seriously long! I understand, I really do. Did you see I added a progress bar on the right here? Just to spur me on... even if in 100-word increments!

annie clarkson said...

Tanis, this is really exciting. I have part written a novel that is in jigsaw pieces. I haven't found out how to bring it together yet, but there are patterns, and a central character, and somehow it will come toegether, in the same way as you describe... good on you, very exciting news...

Tania Hershman said...

Annie, that sounds wonderful! Not linked stories, but some kind of jigsaw of pieces, maybe you don't need to worry about how it fits together, maybe you can leave that to the reader. Maybe we can start a new genre: jigsaw fiction. I sense that's sort of where I am going. Who knows? That's the exciting part, eh?!

Avril said...

What you describe is very much how I began to write my first novel - I had two women, well one but she kind of split into two - and a place and that was about it. I had no linear plot line - I definitely struggle with plot - so I wrote in fragments and let the characters wander! I think it was important for me not to try to think of it as a whole novel but just let it develop. I think this meant some problems later but they were not insurmountable - and in the end I did get an agent and get published by a small independent press. The praise for your writing should give you the confidence you need - go for it! Writing long is great (or do I only say this as I'm no good at short stories?!

Tania Hershman said...

Avril,
you don't know how incredibly helpful and inspiring it is to hear you say that, that you started with a character and wandered around. That makes me feel that maybe, maybe, I could actually do this! And whether you write long or short, the main thing is that you love it, even the tough parts, and that you write what you want to write, right?

Tania Hershman said...

Avril,
you don't know how incredibly helpful and inspiring it is to hear you say that, that you started with a character and wandered around. That makes me feel that maybe, maybe, I could actually do this! And whether you write long or short, the main thing is that you love it, even the tough parts, and that you write what you want to write, right?

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Great stuff, T. And if it is any help at all... my 'novel type thing for which there is no word' is a collection of fragments, and as I write, each one informs the others. Then I go back and tinker with the reast unshamedly. I mostly enjoy the process. Sometimes I find it frustrating, when someone says 'so what is it about?' expecting a plot synopsis... then I think 'ach sod it.' Its about what its about and you'll have to wait and see. Which is what I am having to do as well!!

Good luck. V exciting!

Tania Hershman said...

V, I was thinking of your Big Thing when I was contemplating all this. I will go with the "ach, sod it" school of plotting!

Avril said...

I so agree that it is absolutely about loving what you do and writing what it is you want to write. I know from bitter experience with a first agent that when you try to write something to please someone else it just doesn't work. I do think there is a lot to learn along the way, whatever form you choose, and I'm definitely learning all the time, but I still begin in much the same way (on my third novel now) searching for the story as I write and I think I always will. Perhaps the bigggest difference now though is that I'm beginning to give more thought to audience, to the reader and to what works for them.