February 21st, 2006

writing everywhere

Short story long

I'm having a difficulty with thresholds lately. Specifically, my threshold for what should be its own short story, as opposed to a throwaway element in a novel, is probably set way too high right now. I have started looking at perfectly good short story plots and thinking, "Couldn't I condense that to 200 words here and 400 words there in a novel?" And often I could. But I'm not sure that I should, and I'm not sure that if I did, it wouldn't just get cut as irrelevant anyway.

I like having short stories out in circulation. I like publishing short stories. I even like writing short stories, sometimes. But I do not think of myself as a short story writer. I think of myself as a novelist. (If you think that this could cause some mental disconnects for someone who's published zero novels and over forty short stories, you win the prize. But that's a separate thing right now.)

I've heard that when you write novels, you shouldn't hold back cool stuff in fear of not having more later, you should just throw cool stuff at the novel in great heaps and handfuls, and your first-readers can tell you which things you could have integrated better and which you could have left out entirely. And in a lot of ways that seems like good advice. But then, well, novels have natural lengths the way anything else does, and flinging random cool elements at them is not a good way to have an interesting novel, it's a good way to have a meandering mess. I used to be able to deal with this by writing short stories about cool things that didn't fit well into available novels. But I've spent the last year feeling weird about short stories, and as a result, things are starting to pile up and poke in where they're not wanted.

I don't really know how to get this problem to go away. In specific examples, I would be okay either writing a short story or not writing a short story, but hemming and hawing about short stories vs. novel elements is driving me up a tree.