I’ve often told non-fiction writers who want to be published to start by crafting articles. That way they can build up both credibility and credits. Then, when they’ve gained an audience and the trust of editors, they can begin to think about writing a book-length work.
I assumed that one should take the same tack with writing novels: Start with short stories and then write a novel. I must admit that every short story I’ve ever written was literarily flabby and unsatisfying, even (or especially!) to me. I thought I was a failure because if I couldn’t write short fiction, who would ever want me to write something longer?
Imagine my relief and gratitude when I began reading what one of the best short story writers now living said:
“One of the most often asked questions when I’m playing professor is this: Should I start writing short stories and then work my way up to novels? My answer is no. It’s not like starting to ride a tricycle and then graduating to a bike. Forgive my clumsy mixing of metaphors, but short stories and novels aren’t even apples and oranges; they’re apples and potatoes. Novels seek to emotionally engage readers on all levels, and, to achieve that goal, authors must develop characters in depth, create realistic settings, do extensive research and come up with a structured pacing that alternates between the thoughtful and the rip-roaring. . .
“The payoff in the case of short stories isn’t a roller coaster of plot reversals involving characters they’ve spent lots of time learning about and loving or hating, set in places with atmosphere carefully described. Short stories are like a sniper’s bullet. Fast and shocking. In a story, I can make good bad and bad badder and the most fun of all, really bad seem good.”
--Jeffery Deaver, from the introduction to More Twisted: Collected Stories, Vol. II (Pocket Books, 2006.)
How about you, novel writers? Any of you been able to get paid for publishing both short stories and novels?