The Short Story as Adjunct to the Novel

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* A quick note
* Topic: The Short Story as Adjunct to the Novel
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“When you start a new trail equipped with courage, strength, and conviction, the only thing that can stop you is you.” Ruby Bridges

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” George Orwell (Story ideas, anyone? Other than A Few Good Men, I mean?)

A quick note—Please be sure to read Dawn T’s comment on yesterday’s post. She briefly and succinctly completes the post. Thanks, Dawn!

Topic: The Short Story as Adjunct to the Novel

A few days ago, another mentoring student asked about “worldbuilding,” a concept often referred to in the fantasy and SF genres, especially when the “world” is someplace other than Earth. The notion that conscious worldbuilding is required as you write is a huge, major myth being propagated throughout the writing world.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with consciously constructing the world in which your fantasy or SF stories will take place. For example, thinking through what clothing and shelter and machines and filters and other apparatus and systems will be necessary to ensure the survival and comfort of colonists at lunar or other extra-planetary colonies is fine.

But if you choose to do that, treat it like any other research project. Brainstorm, etc. completely outside the story, not while you’re writing. Don’t allow your conscious, critical mind into your fiction at any stage.

The proper use of your conscious mind is to research and learn. So use it for that. Brainstorming the world and environment your colonists will live in is no different than researching the square mile that lies at the center of Moscow or Montreal or Marseilles before you write a story set in that locale.

Then, when you’re ready to write the story or novel, do that stricly from the creative subconscious. As always, it’s the characters’ story, but they’ve invited you to come along. So race through the story with them, but don’t give a thought to worldbuilding.

What you learned during research or brainstorming seeped through into your creative subconscious. Your characters will pull what they need and apply it as necessary. That’s one way of doing it.

What I recommend, though, is to trust your characters in the first place to reveal the world as the story unfolds. After all, they’re actually living in that world, whereas you can only imagine it. Best of all, it costs you nothing to try. And it will actually save you all that time you would have spent brainstorming.

I’ve written numerous SF short stories and novels, and in all of those I simply followed along and recorded the characters’ story as they lived it. That included any world building. At least two of my stand-alone, non-related SF novels took place in the same lunar colony, a complex colony that my characters created on the fly. (grin)

If you’d like to see an example of this kind of creation, feel free to download (free) this copy of “The Stipplesuit,” a short story I wrote. The “world” in this case is a complex piece of protective clothing. It’s so complex, in fact, it might have been a prime candidate for conscious thought and piece-by-piece construction. Yet again, my characters described the suit on the fly. I just wrote it all down.

Finally to the topic of this post. My mentoring student is in the middle of a novel. But worldbuilding has him stymied. Stopping to worldbuild interrupted the flow of the novel.

His exact question was, “Any advice on worldbuilding? Or should I say, trusting your characters to reveal the world?”

My response? “You said it exactly right: Trust your characters to reveal the world. They’re living on it, after all. But your critical mind pounces on that [the fact that the world isn’t familiar old Earth] and tries to take over—precisely because you’ve heard so often and so many times that you, the writer, have to ‘build’ the world.”

Then I took it a step further. I wanted to give him a way to keep writing fiction instead of stopping to worldbuild with the conscious, critical mind and then return to the story. This is what I now call “the story as adjunct.”

I see this as a third alternative to consciously brainstorming the world or simply continuing to write the novel and trust the characters. It’s also a good way to ease yourself into learning to trust your characters:

“Try picking a character (or two) and just writing his or her experience with One Event (so a short story). It might not even be one of your current “main” characters. But whomever.

“Forget about the novel itself (for now) and just write a short story for fun, but based in the same world. There have to be little things going on off to the side of your main story line. Write those. Write three or four or twenty of them.

“Because the short story isn’t ‘important’ (like the ‘epic’ novel is [grin]) your critical mind will let your creative subconscious play. [As a bonus], your focus on the character and the event will ease you back into writing from the creative subconscious. And chances are, the attributes of the world will emerge in the stories. Then, you can easily plug the short stories into the novel as chapters or scenes or whatever. Or not. Up to you.

‘BUT [and this is important, folks] even if you don’t use the short stories (or all of them) in the novel, you’ve shown your critical mind you can write without it, and that will make your return to the novel easier.

“As another bonus, writing the short stories might open the way for new novels. Just smile, write and have fun.”

Of course, this is only scratching the surface of his mentorship. As is the case with all my mentoring students, he and I have and will talk about many more topics, whatever he needs, over the course of his mentorship.

As I mentioned yesterday, no mentoring slots are currently available, but I’d be happy to put you on a waiting list if you want. Or you could sign up for the slightly less-expensive Extended Q & A.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “The Value of Knowledge and Effort” at Strictly for fun. Beyond that, it doesn’t matter.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1080 words

Writing of (novel, tentative title)

Day 1…… XXXX words. Total words to date…… XXXX

Total fiction words for September……… 3277
Total fiction words for the year………… 69708
Total nonfiction words for September… 12870
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 141100
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 210808

Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2021 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2021 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 67
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: Along with discussing various aspects of the writing craft, I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. WITD is “the only way” to write, but it is by far the easiest, most liberating, and most fun.

2 thoughts on “The Short Story as Adjunct to the Novel”

  1. I think this is excellent advice. The world can be revealed naturally, to you and the reader.

    I have this memory of a writer who said they wrote a short story to get to know the character that was in the novel, which came later.

    • Thanks, Loyd. Kristine Kathryn Rusch often writes short stories to get to know her characters and their situations better. As for me, the entire 16-book overall collection of Wes Crowley novels and the 12-volume Wes Crowley Saga all stemmed from a single 6,000-word short story titled “Adobe Walls.”

Comments are closed.