Process and Product
Long time readers of my various blogs know that I dabble both in writing short stories as well as longer form novella/novel length pieces. Recently, I was asked if there was a difference in my writing process when I write a short story versus when I write a novella. My gut answer to that question was that there really isn’t a difference on how I go about writing the two story forms. That said, I got to thinking for a few days and realized there is actually a gigantic difference between how I approach the two…but only after I get past the initial stages.
Every story I’ve ever written, regardless of its length, comes from something. That something can be an emotion, a person, an idea, a prompt, or something else entirely different, but there’s also a catalyst for my writing. Granted, unless I write that stimulus down as a note, I typically don’t remember what caused me to write the story I did, but that’s a topic perhaps better served for a psychology post rather than a writing theory post.
Ernest Hemingway is one of my favorite writers of all time. While my writing style differs greatly from that of Hemingway, I do use his works and his advice for writers and motivation for my own writing. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway states a theory that helped me to get started on many of the stories I’ve written.
Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.
In a few of my stories, that line of truth has started off the story or chapter I was working on. In other instances, the statement of truth is nothing more than a line of dialogue uttered by one character to help develop plot lines and/or character development. Whatever the specific case may be, starting with a line of truth is one of the two consistent items I have in my process of writing, regardless of the length of the fictional work I’m penning.
Beyond a stimulus and a statement of truth, the only other consistent item regardless of what length of work I’m compiling is that I like to write about topics that scare people. Some of those topics (death, relationship transformations, domestic abuse, utopian/dystopian ideals) are frightening to much of the population, while the remainder of the topics (human sexuality, technology, crime, homosexuality, the supernatural) are alarming to a far less significant number of individuals. My goal isn’t to write about these topics for shock value alone, rather to use these concepts to highlight far more complex emotions within the human psyche, not to mention to act a symbolism for other topics in some cases.
The involvement level between my short stories and my longer works is drastically different for multiple reasons. Beyond the obvious time and effort values that differ from writing a 2,000 word piece and a 75,000 word work, I have literary techniques that I’ll use far more frequently in longer form work than in a short story. My first NaNoWriMo project featured a singular, though intricately detailed, use of Chekhov’s Gun, as well as numerous dream sequences that are done in a flash forward/flashback style. Likewise, I find myself inputting midquels within stories to help with the explanation of concepts and setting of a story. I’ve found myself on more than one occasion scanning through this Wikipedia page, in order to better understand how (and with what techniques) I am writing, as well as to develop a more comprehensive knowledge of how I can improve myself as a writer.
Likewise, my longer works often lead me to asking for feedback from other people. Erin at Analyfe has been my sounding board for nearly all of my longer stories since 2011, with various others helping out on stories as well. As someone who hasn’t received a formal education as a fiction writer, I find that the most difficult part of writing a long story is balancing my desire to create a complex story line without making it so convoluted that I’m left with numerous loose ends. Recently, I’ve been trying to come up with another novella premise, this one based off of the concept of Choose Your Own Adventure stories, however I’m finding it difficult to draw out my character map without paint my apartment wall with dry erase board paint.
As for short stories, I personally find that I write my short stories to be more setting and plot driven than my more character driven longer works. Perhaps this is a shortcoming I have as a writer — I’ve seen great writers develop wonderful characters in short stories — as with one exception, I haven’t found a short story that I’ve written where I’ve loved the character(s) more than the plot of the story.
Going back to Hemingway for a moment, I recently read an article about him that is posted on Open Culture, sharing seven tips from Hemingway about writing. My favorite point on the list is #5: Don’t describe an emotion — make it. As I look to determine how I want to improve the final product of my writing, this is the part of my process that I know needs the most work. I suck at writing dialogue. I can have a narrator or a single character monologue for pages on end, building emotion throughout. That said, a story that’s solely about one person isn’t much of a story at all, nor is an emotion that comes created by a single individual. My goal as a writer is to learn to build emotion in my works.
I have a short story that’ll be posted Wednesday of this week, however it was written before I wrote this post. As a result, I hadn’t determined the course of direction I wanted to take in order to improve my writing. To my readers, I have two requests of you.
- Those of you who are writers — what part of your writing process do you wish you could improve? Why?
- As a way to attempt to build my emotion creating writing skills, leave an emotion you’d like to see me write about/create with writing in the comments. I’ll post my responses/stories as I write them.