Different Forms of Storytelling
By Jenna Byers
So I’m sure you all know there’s more than one way to tell a story. You can actually tell it to an audience, you can make it into a movie or a comic book or a play. All of which come with their own array of challenges. But even if you decide to write it down, there are different ways of doing that; you can write it as a novel, a short story, or a poem. I do intend to discuss poetry as a concept at a later date, so for now let’s just focus on the novel and the short story.
First of all, there are a couple of obvious differences between them, which I’m sure some of you have spotted. Key amongst these differences is their length. Short stories are significantly shorter than novels. This means that short stories have to be much more succinct than novels and that every word has to be chosen with care. One writer who I think is particularly good at this is Neil Gaiman, who manages to take you to different worlds and introduce you to different characters very quickly, without ever making you feel like you’re being rushed through the story, or like you’re missing out on something. If you’ve never read any of his short stories, I would recommend ‘The Price’, which I think encapsulates everything that a good short story should be.
Now, I know some people think that short stories must be easier to write precisely because they’re shorter, but don’t let the length fool you. For example, imagine what would happen if George R.R. Martin ever attempted to write a short story. It would be 10,000 words long and he would only be halfway through introducing the main character.
Writing short stories requires a different kind of discipline to writing novels. A writer needs a carefully planned story, and a streamlined way of storytelling, though the techniques for how they actually write these things can vary massively from one writer to another, and even from story to story. Sometimes you plan the story before you write a word, and other times you have to try a couple of drafts before you really figure out what the story is about. But fundamentally, when you are writing a short story, you must choose every word with care, because people are going to pay more attention to each word if there are simply less words to choose from. You can’t hide sections of bad writing in between sections of good writing in a short story, because there simply isn’t space, and there isn’t time for your reader to forget the cheesy dialogue on page five because the story ends on page seven.
One of the other big differences is the scope of the story. Novels can have huge, sprawling storylines with dozens of locations and characters and things, but short stories don’t really have space for that. So they have shorter time spans maybe, or less locations, or fewer characters.
So maybe the key difference, the big, fundamental difference, is that novels talk about events while short stories, good ones anyway, they talk about ideas; the idea of a life lived, rather than the events that made it up.
“Editor. I suppose I’m an editor. I’d like to be a development editor, because I like working with authors, without having to do the actually difficult bit of writing all the words down. It’s much easier just to tell someone when they’ve made mistakes and get them to fix it.”
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