The Art of Writing: Short Stories vs Novel

Unfortunately, this post is not a comparison between the two art forms of writing, but merely a brief pondering upon the subject in consideration.

I've always believed (having read more short stories than novels) that short stories are somehow, sometimes more effective than novels. They can leave you stunned in a matter of minutes, while the overall effect of a novel is slow and gradual. For comparison, consider the effect of a sharp, piercing arrow against a slow, heavy club. (Of course, it also depends on the kind of novels you read - for this is no absolute generalization)

However, keeping apart the facts and conflicting views, my point behind this post is, basically, I was really touched by this short story I read last night, and I'd like to make a fuss about it. So much it touched me that, when I was on the last page of it, I was trembling with emotion, eyes heavy and ready to pour out any moment, accompanied with a heart beat that I've experienced only on rare occasions of extreme physical exercise. And so moved I was when the story ended, that I sat in silence staring out of my bedroom window into the grim, darkening night.

It ought to be remembered that in creating a short story, a writer has to put an immense amount of effort, if not as great as a novel but still considerable and at times even more. A writer has to setup an entire character and the entire plot just for a particular short story, the materials then would be discarded and pretty useless for the writer's next story. And it doesn't ofcourse earn that much bread as a novel could. And then, the required brevity can be painful at times, when you're forced to tell everything in a very restricted length, whereas in a novel, you're free to meander and develop the characters and plot from all angles if you like, whether you must or must not, it doesn't matter.

And the best thing I like about reading short stories, and mostly the precious anthologies, is their effective edification. I feel as I've extracted the juice from a potent fruit, and had the essence of learning the art of writing, in a quick manner, without investing myself or my time excessively in a narrow genre. So instead of reading fat novels on selected genres, I like to read many short stories on diverse genres. This way, even though it's superficial, you glide through realms of literature faster. And in the end, you can always settle down on what you liked the most, and then pick the big fat books from there. Counterintuitively, poetry being much more concise, can actually be much more time consuming and difficult to understand. So poetry is perhaps not a good start, but you can work your way into it - and it highly depends on which century's poetry you're starting with. Well, I'm drifting from the topic, poetry is for another blog post perhaps.

Anyway, the more I read, the more I find, that I'm merely on the brink of my initial survey, I still haven't found my so-called 'genre'. Here's the sci-fi story(The Bone Flute by Lisa Tuttle) that I've been ranting about. It won 1982 Nebula Award for Best Short Story.

Current Book: "The Female Hero" An anthology on literary quests of females
Current Music: "Imagine The Fire" by Hanz Zimmer (best thing on the music planet out there)

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Neel Tripathi said...

Agreed, when I was reading Sherlock Holmes; I found many short stories much more interesting and thrilling than many bestselling thriller novels!


hmm right !

Arkantos said...

Personally I feel that short stories are immensely tougher to write than novels. When I sit down to write, I get hundreds of ideas to write a novel about, but none whatsoever about a short story. And I agree with you that short stories can sometimes give you much more satisfaction than novels. But then again, it depends on the author. I haven't read many short stories but my favorite short story authors are : Isaac Asimov (read his Nightfall anthology. It is EPIC!), Saki, O'Henry and Guy de Maupassant.

And about poetry...well I've never been able to appreciate it much, except for three poems that really captured my imagination when I was a kid - 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner', 'The Solitary Reaper' and 'Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening'

Tanya said...

I agree with you on the short stories. I'll add the nightfall anthology to my reading list as per your recommendation. I've read the other three others, to some extent. Currently, I'm pursuing "The Story and Its Writer edited by Ann Charters". It has stories from 100+ best authors of all time, and it's a fat, fat book that I basically can't carry around. So I keep it at my bedside :) Powerful short stories, followed by commentaries by top literary authors on methods of writing. I'm working through it slooowly..

I too remember reading those poems when I was small. But believe me, there's an entire era of poetry lying out there, which u can pursue! (I've no idea about contemporary poetry, but 17-18th century is quite good with folks like byron, wordsworth, coleridge..)

Tanya said...

Thanks Neel and Rahul for stopping by! Yes, I loved Conan Doyle's short works too..

Ananth Vitlani said...

I agree with you. Short story, if well written, can leave a lasting impression in few minutes, which sometimes Novel can't. However, I would prefer Novel, as I believe-Yes I believe, Novel has a life, where as Short story has moments of life. I really liked your thoughts. Thanks

Tanya said...

@Ananth, Thanks for the appreciation! :)

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