On a couple of occasions, when I have mentioned that I am writing a novel, someone will say, “Oh, have you tried writing short stories?” Well yes, I have, but that doesn’t really mean anything.
A short story is not a miniature novel and writing short stories is not training for writing a novel. They are completely different forms. Just from my own reading and writing experience, it seems that novels are much more structured and plot driven than short stories, which often focus on a single turning point in a character’s life.
If you want to write short stories, you need to read them. There are a number of magazines that publish contemporary short fiction, Mslexia and Ambit are just two examples. On the Mslexia website you can read short stories in the New Writing section and on the Ambit website you can download a free issue. You can also read many short stories online at the New Yorker, including my absolute favourite short story, A Stone Woman by A. S. Byatt.
Last week I found two hidden treasure troves in the house where I am staying. The first was a bundle of DVDs that had come free with a newspaper. So far I’ve watched Bagdad Cafe (the film – I vaguely remembered a show of that name with Whoopi Goldberg in it and was a bit confused until good old Wikipedia sorted me out), Orlando (saves me having to read it) and Hideous Kinky (might like to read it anyway). There’s still The Wicker Man but I’m a bit too scared to watch it on my own.
The second hidden treasure was a pile of old Mslexia magazines which I have been working my way through. One thing that has really stuck out is the number of writers who claim that their friends and family do not encourage them to write. Worse, that sometimes they are actively discouraged or scorned. My family have always encouraged me with my writing, and I thought that was normal. When I said I wasn’t sure if I would manage to write a novel, my dad said “I think you will.” My mum e-mails me with details of publishers and agents. When I told my friends about my NaNoWriMo adventure, several of them offered to proof read the manuscript.
So now I am wondering: am I just very lucky, or have the women who I have been reading about been very unlucky?