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DesDownunder

Literature and the Instant Pudding.

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In my blog I bemoan the local Adelaide poetry group's decision to reduce the amount of time for each reader from 4 minutes to 3, with a possibility of going to 2 minutes.

It is fairly obvious from the replies I received in my blog that this idea is frowned upon by a number of members.

So I got to wondering about the implications of why a need is felt to limit people in this way, apart from the time factor itself.

I wonder if out current social desire for the quick fix, the 30 minute sitcom instead of a 90 minute film, the 90 minute play instead of a 4 hour theatrical event, the 3 minute song instead of the 6 hour opera; the instant pudding instead of a baked souffl?. Is our attention span becoming less within the confines of modern Western society?

What does this say about our own recent fascination with Flash Fiction? (which I love by the way.)

I don't mean to criticize Flash Fiction as being unworthy, uninteresting or even that it is somehow a second rate form of short story telling, but there we go again; has the short story supplanted the lengthy novel as a means to getting a literary fix -quickly, instantly.

It's not just readers that we need to ask but the authors also, because if the short story is a way to reach an audience and thus hopefully their applause if not their adoration :lol: , then maybe that can explain why the longer story forms escape so many of us.

Heaven knows it is difficult enough to write even a six thousand word story let alone a sixty thousand word novel.

These thoughts became more pronounced in my tiny mind, after giving consideration to a story I had begun writing as a Flash Fiction, when suddenly I saw greater possibilities to develop the plot line. Eight thousand words later, I became aware that another of my unfinished stories would fit directly into this plot without having to rearrange the story.

Of course this would mean merging the two and changing a few practical settings and characters to retain consistency in the writing, but perfectly attainable, except that now there was an even greater development occurring in the plot structure that really takes the work into the realm of a much lengthier novel.

I know there is nothing new in this idea of taking different parts of one's work and creating something else, Shakespeare did it, indeed most playwrights do it all the time. Before copyright restrictions they took from each other as well.

I wonder if this is a way to develop longer stories that so many of us are interested in doing, but has so far eluded some of us?

Of course the one thing that seems discouraging, is the enormous amount of work such a story is going to take; the research, finding the right style, tense, etc., not to mention the editing as well as being convinced that it is something that must be done.

However if the muse demands then who are we to refuse?

Maybe you have some ideas on this? Just don't spill the instant pudding on the keyboard. :lol:

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Of course the one thing that seems discouraging, is the enormous amount of work such a story is going to take; the research, finding the right style, tense, etc., not to mention the editing as well as being convinced that it is something that must be done.

However if the muse demands then who are we to refuse?

Yes, writing a longer novel does take considerably more time and attention. For it to be at all good, what happens at the beginning has to have relevance at the end. The diverse parts of the story should all fit one way or another. The point of the story should be weighty enough that the reader, on ending, doesn't snort and say, "I read all that, for this?!"

So it is more difficult, and does take more time. If you enjoy the mechanics and challenges of writing, however, it isn't grueling time, but delightful time. You're doing what you like doing, just more of it. Yes, it does take more research, more concentration, more puzzling out problems. If you're like me, it'll also take much more going back and tweaking things you've already written to accommodate what you now are writing than any short story does. It takes more just sitting, thinking. If you have a partner, this will be upsetting to him. You have to ignore that.

However, as much enjoyment and fulfillment you get from writing a short story, you can multiply that by ten what you get from completing a novel you feel proud of. For many reasons. One of the surprising ones is, you get to say, "I did it." Because I doubt anyone really thinks they can, till they do.

So if your muse is bugging you, and has been for some time, telling you you need to get on with it, if I were you, I'd listen.

C

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After a lot of thought on the matter, I'm pretty sure that the type of fiction one writes depends very much on the character you are.

I would love to write a novel length piece. By that I mean finish one that makes sense from beginning to end, complete with plot, story arcs etc, etc. But I'm beginning to know myself: I have the attention span of a gnat that likes shiny things, and frankly, anything longer than a few thousand words defeats me. :stare:

So, flash fiction, films without subtitles and instant pudding are just ... mmm. Perfect. :icon_rabbit:

And then ... oh, look, a new shiny thing!

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Camy, maybe you can think of a novel as just a series of connected short stories. Each chapter has to set up a situation, deal with characters, and have a kind of arc that is a sort of beginning, middle and end (or at least move in a forward direction).

String the chapters together, and you have a novel.

Granted, in most novels, you can't pull out one chapter and have a self-contained story. I think your attention-span issues can be solved just through structure: coming up with a framework -- an outline -- that tells you what events have to happen in each chapter, moving on to the end.

I can refer you to some good books that explain it far better than I can. For one, read James Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling, which is a perfect introduction to the process (available on Amazon and at many libraries).

I bet you've got a good novel in you, and you could really do it if you really set your mind at it. That having been said, I readily agree that some stories work better as short stories, and some as novels; some films work better as shorts, and others as features. Trying to expand a limited idea onto a huge canvas is rarely a good idea.

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I have the attention span of a gnat that likes shiny things.

And then ... oh, look, a new shiny thing!

Some people look for analogies in the great novels. Some of us are less erudite. When I read this, what immediately came to mind was a wonderful movie made several years ago titled: The Rats of NIHM. OK, OK, before anyone else jumps in, it was a cartoon. Full length, and actually a wonderful movie. But it had a character in it, a large black bird, who was intrigued with baubles, and colored strings, and, well, 'oh, look, a new shiny thing' could well have come from his lips. Uh, beak.

And to look at what Des said, about writing a series of complete short stories and tying them together to make a novel? Odd he'd say that, because that's exactly what I set out to do recently. And I failed. Couldn't do it. As I got deeper into it, I found building on the old, but explaining it all again each time so a reader could read any chapter and know what was going on, became tedious and boring for the reader. So I quit. I didn't quit the story, just the attempt to make every chapter self-contained. It sounds good, but it didn't work, at least for the story I was writing. I find most of what I write takes on a mind of it's own, and I have to run fast just to keep up.

But, there's no way you, Camy, could not complete a full length novel if you put your mind to it. No way at all. You just have to suck it up a little and not take the easy way out. Focus, concentration, and will are needed. And you've got all three, whether you believe it or not. Oh, and intelligence, too, but you've got that in spades.

C

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Cole wrote:

And to look at what Des said, about writing a series of complete short stories and tying them together to make a novel? Odd he'd say that...

I don't think that is what I meant. I was trying to convey the idea that a shorter story or stories may be integrated into a longer one because they fit. Perhaps I should have been clearer about it by saying that sometimes, not all the time by any means, but sometimes, what we think we have written as short stories, are in fact different parts of a longer story. It is not until we have written more of that longer story that it becomes obvious that those shorter stories are in fact part of a longer one.

For instance I could write a short story about a galley slave in ancient Rome saving the commander of the ship when it was sunk in battle, and ending it with the Roman showing his gratitude by adopting the slave as his son, or I could simply use this tale as a section of a larger work about a man affected by the life and times of Jesus Christ and call it Ben-Hur.

I certainly wasn't thinking in terms of deliberately trying to write each chapter as a complete short story which would become an overall longer novel when they were joined together. Sorry if I gave that impression.

I remember the Rats of NIMH, but it was called The Secret of NIMH (in Australia anyway). It was a charming film and I particularly loved the scene where the large black bird crash-landed in a most inept fashion, and the baby rat saying, "Look mom, a turkey." :stare:

In Cole's very encouraging post above, he emphasises the need for a weighty point to the tale, but I also think that the weight can effuse the whole work, or simply (often with great complexity) be a comparatively, seemingly, trite ending which the story upon reflection reveals as worthy of greater regard. The end of a story may not be the revelation, the truth may be contained in the experience of the reading experience of the whole. The journey being more important than the ending.

The most famous obvious phrase at the end of a large novel I can think of is Gone With The Wind, where after we have lived with and read the journey of Scarlett O'Hara's life and after she has alienated her husband, we come to understand that the final trite phrase is perhaps the only saving grace of the woman in being prepared to not despair but to "Worry about that tomorrow, for tomorrow is another day." In that line, hope is shown as being a driving force in not only Scarlett's life but is in fact a human trait. But the temptation to say, "I read all that for this", is not an uncommon reaction.

However I do understand Cole's point is valid when I see and read so many films and read so many tales, that offers little in the way of a journey or a conclusion that justifies the time to read or watch it.

I think a longer work does need a point or many points to make it worthwhile. My post was designed to impart the idea that short stories may in fact be scenes in a larger work, if appropriate to those points.

I must also live under the cloud of suspicion that I may only be a short story writer, because like Camy I have not yet managed a story of great length. Although I think Camy has written much longer works than mine and I think he has the talent to do it.

I will keep trying too, for tomorrow may be the day for a longer story.

:icon_rabbit:

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Let me clarify a little. This is sort of like the errata that follows the paper. I hate it when the errata is longer than the paper.

Yeah, I screwed up the film name. That occurred to me in the middle of the night. The book the film was based on was titled Mrs. Brisby and the Rats of NIMN. The film was, as Des says, simply The Secret of NIMN. I guess they thought a film with the word Rats in the title might not draw in the popcorn munchers.

Also, what I spoke of trying to do was write a longer story, but make each chapter be a stand alone short story. That was the plan. I always have a plan. That they don't always come to fruition is probably the mark of many an amateur writer. I didn't foresee the difficulty in writing a sequential novel that way. As I said, the need to explain how the characters got to the situation they were in, time after time, precluded doing it the way I intended. This was true of that story. I still think it could be done as Des suggested. It simply didn't work for me. That time.

And I agree with Des that there is no one right way a story should be built. There should be some reason for the story to have been written, but whether it's to highlight a strong message at the end, or whether the point of the story is contained within and spread throughout, it really depends on how the writer wants to do it. Uusally, I like to make several hopefully insightful and useful points during a longer story. And I like some punch at the end. One of the things I so like about writing is the freedom you have to do it as you want to. Where else is life do you have this unlimited freedom?

OK, enough of supporting Des. In the interests of fairness, I have to point out when he makes egregious blunders. The boy calling Jeremy, the bird, a turkey wasn't a rat. He was a mouse. :icon_rabbit:

C

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Cole wrote:

OK, enough of supporting Des. In the interests of fairness, I have to point out when he makes egregious blunders. The boy calling Jeremy, the bird, a turkey wasn't a rat. He was a mouse.

Quite so Cole, it was a mouse, a field mouse, I believe. In my defence I was operating from memory as I had not seen the movie since 1983. The significance of this is that I think my memory supplements are working satisfactorily, even if not 100%.

I also agree with Cole's love of the freedom in writing. In these days of manipulative media, writing and posting as we do on the Net leaves us with a great deal of personal artistic freedom, and where there is artistic freedom, new discoveries are never far away.

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And to look at what Des said, about writing a series of complete short stories and tying them together to make a novel? Odd he'd say that, because that's exactly what I set out to do recently. And I failed. Couldn't do it. As I got deeper into it, I found building on the old, but explaining it all again each time so a reader could read any chapter and know what was going on, became tedious and boring for the reader.

Hey, that was me who talked about maybe trying to write a novel as a series of connected short stories.

I don't think it works to explain everything in each chapter, for the exact reasons you cite. I think it is beneficial to re-introduce a character we haven't seen in a few chapters, just to jog the reader's mind. Maybe one character can ask another, "who is this guy again?" "Oh, you remember -- the guy who did such-and such last week."

BTW, on a related note, I re-read all of the Harry Potter novels last summer, and had to chuckle every time J.K. Rowling would have to recap the plot and characters at the beginning of each book. That definitely gets to be a drag after awhile, particularly for an epic story that takes place over a 7-year period and has about 150 speaking characters.

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There seems to be something of an implication running through this discussion that the writing of a novel is somehow a more "heroic" or noteworthy enterprise than the authoring of short stories. For example, the "you can do it if you only try harder" kind of statement. Was this what was intended? I find that view hard to understand --or accept.

James Merkin

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There seems to be something of an implication running through this discussion that the writing of a novel is somehow a more "heroic" or noteworthy enterprise than the authoring of short stories. For example, the "you can do it if you only try harder" kind of statement. Was this what was intended? I find that view hard to understand --or accept.

James Merkin

I think there is a perception, if not a misconception, that a full length novel is the holy grail of writing a story. In much the same way that a feature film is superior to a short film, or a symphony is somehow better than an ?tude.

The truth of the matter is that they are simply different with various results, each favoured or desired by various people or individuals.

Maybe I should have prefaced my initial post with a remark such as, "For those who aspire to write something longer..."

I certainly consider that short stories have the ability to communicate their author's intention just as much as a longer story has for its author.

In the dramatic world there are certain time constraints necessary to develop the setting, characters and plot.

If you have ever wondered, it was fairly common knowledge amongst the older theatre directors prior to television drama that under 90 minutes, some dramatic content would have to be curtailed, some development truncated in order to meet the time restraint. The minimum time for dramatic development of course depends on the strength of the subject matter, however if the running time is in the vicinity of 100 -110 minutes, it is reasonable to expect there has been some devotion to realising maximum potential of the subject matter. Please note that this is in regard to a dramatic comic/tragic presentation without insertion of any advertising material, which by the way are really short plays with usually a single point of view and last anywhere from a few seconds to 3 minutes.

And there is the 3 minutes again, which was the inspiration for my post, in that 3 minutes was proposed as a limit for poetry readings at my local Poetry reading group which I described in my blog.

So James rather than pursue the idea that short or long is better or worse, I would rather champion that writing should be as long or as short as it needs to be, without external limitations. Limiting writing is not conducive to creativity except where it occurs as an accepted personal discipline.

Being aware that many of us would like to write something longer than the short stories we do enjoy writing, I tried to put forward a thought about short stories possibly being the scenes that would be part of a longer work, provided they serve the overall work's purpose. (This is distinct from Pecman's interesting idea of a novel as a series of connected short stories.)

No intent or slur on the short form of writing was intended, but the longer forms are more difficult to write for many of us, myself included, even if my posts and replies indicate otherwise. :icon_rabbit:

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There seems to be something of an implication running through this discussion that the writing of a novel is somehow a more "heroic" or noteworthy enterprise than the authoring of short stories.

You misinterpret my comments. I consider Camy a friend here, and was commenting on his specific statement: "I would love to write a novel length piece," but then went on to say that he felt he didn't have the attention span needed to write one.

I think he's got some talent, and I think he could write a novel if he set his mind to it. I also agree 100% with Des' comments above about novel chapters essentially being made up of short stories. In fact, he said it far better than I did, and gets the point across that I was trying to make.

I also pointed out in my message that there are some ideas that work better in short form, and some that need a bigger canvas. No question, it's a bad idea to take a limited concept and try to inflate it to a novel (or a feature film). And it takes great skill to write a good short story or a good novel. It's the difference between a sprinter and a long-distance runner: each is running a race, needs lots of skill and training, and needs stamina and effort to win (or in this case, finish the story and entertain the reader).

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You misinterpret my comments. I consider Camy a friend here, and was commenting on his specific statement: "I would love to write a novel length piece," but then went on to say that he felt he didn't have the attention span needed to write one.

I think he's got some talent, and I think he could write a novel if he set his mind to it. I also agree 100% with Des' comments above about novel chapters essentially being made up of short stories. In fact, he said it far better than I did, and gets the point across that I was trying to make.

Blush :icon_rabbit:
I also pointed out in my message that there are some ideas that work better in short form, and some that need a bigger canvas. No question, it's a bad idea to take a limited concept and try to inflate it to a novel (or a feature film). And it takes great skill to write a good short story or a good novel. It's the difference between a sprinter and a long-distance runner: each is running a race, needs lots of skill and training, and needs stamina and effort to win (or in this case, finish the story and entertain the reader).

Delightfully stated, Pecman.

I hope James (Merkin) is feeling happier too about our regard for the equable worth of both short and longer stories. :stare:

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There seems to be something of an implication running through this discussion that the writing of a novel is somehow a more "heroic" or noteworthy enterprise than the authoring of short stories. For example, the "you can do it if you only try harder" kind of statement. Was this what was intended? I find that view hard to understand --or accept.

James Merkin

Personally, if I actually finished a novel I would consider it amazingly 'heroic', and would want a statue raised in some suitable public spot. :stare:

You misinterpret my comments. I consider Camy a friend here

:icon_rabbit:

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There seems to be something of an implication running through this discussion that the writing of a novel is somehow a more "heroic" or noteworthy enterprise than the authoring of short stories. For example, the "you can do it if you only try harder" kind of statement. Was this what was intended? I find that view hard to understand --or accept.

James Merkin

If you took that from what I said, which would have been easy to do, I apologize for lack of clarity.

Both short stories and longer ones take quite a bit of effort and expertise if you want to do them well. As Pecman says, it's a different problem to solve in each case.

What I was trying to do was encourage Camy to simply give it a try. His complaints, which we've seen several times, read to me as someone who's simply frustrated about trying. I've read some of his longer stuff, and there's no question in my mind he's more than capable of writing a wonderful novel. So, in that spirit, I was trying to use a cattle prod.

But each genre is certainly equally noteworthy, and anyone writing a meritorious story in either is to be equally commended.

C

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Let me add that there are short stories out there that have actually brought tears to my eyes, at least when they're done well. Some of them are on my own "Best of B.O.N. List," and I explain the reason why.

Savoir Faire's "Find Your Own Way" is one that does that to me, about a runaway teenager. The story wouldn't work as a novel; it's perfect as a short story.

I gotta admit, I haven't tried writing a short story yet. The occasional ideas I have for stories usually tend to snowball into something too big to do in short form, but I hope to be able to do that someday. I'm just now re-reading all of Edgar Allen Poe's short stories, and the stuff he did -- 150 years ago! -- is unbelievably good.

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The genius of a story like Find Your Own Way is what it does not give us. The first paragraph is a compelling example of that gift. A novel version would have spelled out these details and given us the backstory. This short story permits us -- if we are willing to become committed as readers -- to write this part of the story on our own. We each may write it in our own individually unique way, but the result is we become drawn in and become more than readers, we participate. By drawing on our own experiences, insights, or knowhow we imagine that town, people it, furnish that sparse room, and flesh those personalities, according to the clues and cues the author offers us. We commit to the success of the story in a way we do not need to do when we sink into a novel. That gives a story like this a resonance in our own hearts that many a novel fails to achieve.

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Find Your Own Way is very mature writing.

Intelligent, demanding and revealing, I found I wanted more, even though it had delivered all that it set out to do.

The questions the story leaves with the reader are the questions only the reader can provide, and that is parallel with James' idea of the reader writing that part of the story from within our experiences. The author doesn't demand us to do this as much as he evokes a need in the reader to contribute whatever he can whether they be answers or questions is immaterial.

However I have to say that I have read a novel length story way back in my youth when I was about 15 that had exactly this effect upon me.

I can't remember the title, but it was the first story I had ever read that alarmed me with an unhappy conclusion. I don't think I ever recovered completely, and it wasn't a gay story either. What it did was to open a door in my mind that allowed me to see the possibility that things aren't always what I think they are.

Anyway I agree this is a great short story, and astoundingly well written. I really enjoyed reading it.

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I can't remember the title, but it was the first story I had ever read that alarmed me with an unhappy conclusion.

My father was an early subscriber to the Sci-Fi Book Club in the early 1960s, and I grew up reading these books, literally from the age of 5. I found out very quickly that some stories are very dark, even tragic. I can recall reading some Phillip K. Dick stories in that period from 1962-1969 that had definitely caused me to look at the world differently. (Some might say "warped," but I was always a huge SF fan, and clamored to see flying saucer movies and horror movies from an early age. I ate up horror mags like Famous Monsters going back to 1st grade, which drove my parents crazy.)

But I also read the more uplifting, positive work of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. I never could get into Heinlein for some reason, but I continue to try.

I've often felt that the stories that affect me the most are the ones that don't necessarily go for a happy ending, but have a sense of poignancy and loss. Not necessarily death or destruction, but just the idea that good drama demands sacrifice, along with peaks and valleys. Still, I'm a sucker for an optimistic ending, and I like to end things on an up note if I can, with as many loose ends addressed as possible.

BTW, one key to short story writing (as exemplified by Find Your Own Way) is starting each scene from the middle, rather than the beginning. The author does this several times, and you get a sense a lot has gone on that he hasn't talked about. Without coming out and saying it, you already know his backstory, and it isn't pretty. This technique helps keep the story short and moving along at a brisk pace.

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