Thursday, September 05, 2013

A Novel Approach

The question of what differentiates a novel from a short story might at first seem obvious. Many immediately refer to the ‘length’ and word count of each form

But the reality, as I am discovering more and more from my chats with numerous fiction writers scattered in every corner of Iowa City, is that length is the last difference to consider.

Van, a first year fiction writer at the Iowa Writers Workshop, whom I met following a rather entertaining, albeit odd, poetry recital at The Mill, jokingly said that he doesn’t even know what a novel is anymore.

He told me how short fiction is a much more fluid form that he enjoys exploring. I agreed with him. There is something far more refreshing and rewarding about writing a short story. I pointed out that novels spend the first couple of hundred of pages building up to this ultimate climax that the reader is meant to care for, this of course doesn’t apply to every novel. But it often is the case.

Where as with short stories, you don’t have to have such a climax. It’s an exploration of the human condition rather than a telling of a series of events. The night before, I was dragged by the ever wise and wonderful Canadian/Egyptian writer Karim Alrawi to the Foxhead, the famed bar that many great writers spent their time deliberating literature, and writing, and naturally, enjoying the odd drink or two. 

I had expressed my anxiety to Karim about starting a new novel. I had two unfinished manuscripts that I no longer felt attached to and felt the need to use my time during the IWP to begin a new project.

And what he said sounded so simple, yet something I’ve never considered before. He said. “Start with your ending. Figure it out and build your story from there.” Your final act, your ending, is the reward that the readers looks for after investing time in reading your novel. So it is crucial.

Short stories, sometimes, don’t even have to have plot. But approaching a novel from the end would allow it to grow organically and gradually, branching into the events and characters that leads it to it.

That and choice.

Present a moral choice that your protagonist has to make in order to resolve the conflict. A choice that builds suspense by the time the reader has developed an emotional connection with the character.

With that in mind, let’s get to writing.

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