Guest post: How writing short gets you the long end of the stick by Kait Nolan

I believe Kait and I connected first over at Crit Partner Match.  However we met, I kept coming back to Kait’s blog for her insights into the writing process.

Today Kait is here as part of her blog tour to promote her new paranormal romance novella, Forsaken by Shadow.  Here’s Kait to talk about the benefits of writing short stories.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been writing all my life.  For two thirds of it anyway.  And in all that time, I have focused exclusively on writing novels.  It just seemed to be how my brain worked, coming up with long, complex plots that couldn’t possibly be resolved in a matter of pages.  With the glaring exceptions of a few short stories I won competitions with in high school (mostly because the competition was poor), I have always written novels.

When I decided to start working on building my platform, the most logical thing seemed to be having something of my work to offer up for free or cheap to draw readers in.  Given how long it takes me to produce a full length novel, I knew it had to be something shorter—a short story or novella.  Given how I feel about short stories, a novella was the obvious choice.  The end result was my debut release Forsaken By Shadow, which I just released at the end of March.

I learned so much from writing out of my comfort zone—skills that I’m taking back to my full-length fiction to improve it.

Writing short means that every sentence, every word has to count, has to advance the plot and move the story forward.  My prose is much more effective.

Short plots must be tight, clear, and concise.  There’s no room for wandering trips off into fluffyverse (the realm of no conflict where you play with your characters as braindolls).  And there’s no room for distracting subplots.  You have to have have a razor sharp focus on your plot, to know exactly where you’re going and how you’re getting there.  Which, I have to say, has done wonders for my ability to figure out how to traverse the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle where countless past novels have died.

Every scene must count in a short piece.  Each one does multiple duties, advancing the plot, showing some progress in the characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts.  It’s all about movement, pushing the story forward.  And with that movement comes the readers’ attention—maintaining the pace means that the reader doesn’t put your story down and is engaged far longer than they might be in a longer book.

And above all, I got more comfortable with the length and have managed to plan a few other novellas, so I’ll have more stuff to put out there and expand my reader base as I move forward with my career.

Kait’s debut paranormal romance novella, Forsaken By Shadow, is available at Scribd, Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the iBookstore.  It is the first in the Mirus series.

Banished from their world with his memory wiped, Cade Shepherd doesn’t remember his life as Gage Dempsey, nor the woman he nearly died for. But when Embry Hollister’s father is kidnapped by military scientists, the only one she can turn to is the love from her past. Will Gage remember the Shadow Walker skills he learned from her father? If they survive, will Embry be able to walk away again?

Kait can be found at her writing blog, Shadow and Fang, her cooking blog Pots and Plots, on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.

Your turn, participants!  Do you write short?  Have you found that it makes your writing tighter and more direct?

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19 thoughts on “Guest post: How writing short gets you the long end of the stick by Kait Nolan

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  4. It’s amazing how much you can find to cut when you’re settling in to write a short story. I wrote my last one two years ago and have a vague half formed idea for starting another one, but wow – as much effort goes into those few pages as into an entire novel. Congratulations on yours!

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  6. Great post, Kait – I echo the chorus of love for your comments on the dreaded middling, LOL!!

  7. Before taking this workshop I’d only written a couple of short stories – as a whole I prefer writing novels. But I’m finding an immense satisfaction in getting first drafts done in a week, especially since my current WIP has been in the works for about a year. (Oh dear. I only just realised that…)

    I have to admit that I do tend towards fluffiness, but I’m quite good at recognising it in edits. With short stories things still surprise me, but with novels I rarely know exactly where I’m going until I’m up to my neck in revisions!

    • That’s EXACTLY what ultimately prompted me to transition toward the plotter side of things. You might try checking out Larry Brooks’ series on Story Structure (www.storyfix.com). It was a godsend for me.

  8. Very well said, thanks for sharing. Yes I have that “dreaded valley in the shadow of the middle” a lot of the time. That is when I wonder if I really am on the right path. Up to now I have always written and sold “how to” magazine articles and it does seem strange to be playing with so many words, conversations and ideas. Oh well, if nothing else I am exercising my brain.

  9. Ooh! Yay for short stories! Even more yay for flash fiction, but y’know….

    Also, how cool to give away a novella as a plan to increase readership? I love that idea. I also love the “fluffyverse,” and “The Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle.” You’ve a fun way with words, good lady.

  10. Like Nick I’m also using poetry to practice the art of brevity, but my second set in this workshop focuses on the short story and I’m anxious to see how my poetry practice transposes to a tighter short.

    I’m queen of the run on, and on, and on. What can I say – I like words – and lots of them. But I’m learning.

  11. Actually, one thing I’m working on with the workshop is increasing my word count because I have a tendency to be very brief.

    I’m used to academic writing, mostly, and it’s about being concise which is something I look for in most other things I read. Interesting to see someone who’s trying to do the opposite :)

    • My EDJ is in academia and I DESPISE academic writing. It’s all about brevity and total lack of interesting. It took me a good year to get away from that once I finished grad school.

  12. I also love that term “the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle where countless past novels have died” — sad to say two of my novels have died there. I have definitely noticed that honing my skills in shorter pieces has strengthened my writing when it comes to writing longer-length projects, if only because now I picture novels as a series of closely interlinked short stories, making sure that each scene means something.

    Great post!

  13. Wow, the novella looks impressive, also really enjoyed this post. And that term you used for middling– ‘the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle’– :) too true!

    I try my best to write short, making sure each scene serves multiple purposes. But when I don’t, I keep it in mind while editing. Writing poetry also helped; I’ve yet to find a better way to practice word-economics.

    And it has helped, as far as I can tell. But sometimes I cut away too much detail because my beta readers want something explained that I already did explain … only I cut it away. I think I have to find a balance.

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