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As a new writer, Is it okay to dive on my idea of a long story (a novel) or to first try short stories? I am very excited to start on my concept but am not sure if it is better to first try smaller projects to gain confidence.

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    "Everyone has 5 bad books in them, which they need to write out of themselves before they can start writing good books." It doesn't matter if you write them out as a novel or as short stories :) – SF. Mar 21 '17 at 0:04
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    Um. Maybe I'm horribly wrong about writing but isn't this 'Primarily Opinion Based'? – Please stop being evil Mar 21 '17 at 5:26
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    @thedarkwanderer: I suppose it could be rewritten into a more objective 'which is the best approach: pros and cons'. But I feel that, with writing approaches, answers and questions are often subjective and, therefore, opinion based. The answer to this particular question, for example, depends on the writer's own style. If the OP hasn't yet figured out their style, then asking about different approaches and their strengths / weaknesses is valid, IMHO. – SC for reinstatement of Monica Mar 21 '17 at 11:23
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There are different answers to this question. Mine may be off putting, but it's not meant to be. You're basically asking if you should start with the marathon. The short answer is that unless you are extremely unique and talented to the point of abnormalcy, your first book is going to be rough. It's probably going to be bad. But it's ultimately practice. You'll be good after four or five books. Which is to say, you're going to want to approach this with the right mindset.

First, try something manageable. Try to stick to one POV. Finish your book no matter what. Figure out what the healthy habits for you look like. Make sure that you are writing something fun. If you pick a shorter arc that will give you a novella, you'll be perhaps in a better position. (Google is your friend for word counts here).

You also are going to want to know the answers to these questions:

  1. Are you an outliner or a pantser? Do you sit down and just write or do you plan it out? This will determine how much you need to do before you start.
  2. What are you going to do to make space for this hobby in your life? I work a full time job. I just had my first kid. I had to give up a ton of stuff to make the time. I do not play many video games anymore.
  3. What happens in the middle of your story? Most people have a good beginning or a good ending, sometimes both. Your middle needs to be good too. To get a good middle, you're going to want to figure out what your set pieces are. Set pieces are cool, fun things that you want to write about that you can use in a scene. They are also mile markers do that you can keep a good pace. If you are a pantser, do not outline these further as it may ruin your writing experience.

The biggest recommendation I have is that you listen to season 10 of the podcast Writing Excuses. It's supposed to be a master class for writing your first book. Also when you inevitably hit your low point, listen to the episode about writing for fun. It's a huge pick-me-up. Think of it as your second wind.

Yes, go write your first book. But pack your camping supplies first. You're in for a long haul.

Aside, I'm a hypocrite. I'm doing a large, complicated, 3 POV novel right now. But I think I've packed my pack right. But, I'm constantly stressed about the what ifs. You could go down my road, but it's a hard one.

Update: finished said book and an now with alpha readers. It's currently too long to publish and needs to be cut in half; but it was and will be good practice. While it's out with alpha I'm starting up a new project. It was the book I needed to write at the time, but I'm pretty sure it's going in the trunk. I would caution anyone starting a book with the intention of selling to heed the advice of staying a bit closer to the ideal word count for your genre.

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    I'm not sure why you recommend one POV? In my opinion, a single POV makes it more difficult to tell a story. – Jack Aidley Mar 21 '17 at 10:18
  • The single POV keeps first time writers from suffering a recursive death spiral where their story grows without bound. Basically, it's to combat scope creep in the same way that writers need to combat World Builders Disease. Like I said, I'm being a hypocrite on this point. You can do what you want. The common advice that I hear is to stick to one POV so that you can focus on finishing something and learning your lessons. This theory largely assumes the first book is practice. – Kirk Mar 21 '17 at 13:14
  • 'You need a good middle' . That really is a solid advice. – Joel Zachariah Feb 9 '18 at 4:02
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    You had me with the recognition of plotter vs. pantser. So many people just assume writers are pantsers. But you lost me again with your note about a strong middle. I fully believe you need a strong middle. But a strong middle is not a collection of "cool, fun things that you want to write about". That does not make a good middle. A good middle is made by raising stakes, eliminating options, and increasing the emotional payout of the climax. A good middle should build to the end, not play with random fun scenes. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Feb 9 '18 at 6:03
  • That's a fair point, and you should do all of that. But at the outset, it's not a bad idea to pick events you want to hit. You should evaluate whether they contribute or interrupt the momentum or tone you are shooting for. That's also something that's easier for a first time author to deal with in revision. " A book is not just a bunch of things happening" – Kirk Feb 9 '18 at 13:09
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It depends. For me, writing short stories feels like a waste of time and I can't stop myself from creating connections that can transform the short idea into a long, far more interesting (for me) tale.

However, if you do dive in with the long one, you must be prepared to get to the end and re-write almost everything.

If you think short-stories will make you feel satisfied, by all means, do so first. It may give you ideas to improve the concept for your novel.

If you want to develop your writing style, you may want to consider writing snippets. For example, imagine you want to practice how to describe characters: choose a photo of a person from a magazine (someone you don't know, preferably) and describe them from the most exaustive to the most minimalist; from the most static (no action at all, just description) to the most active (mostly action and just one or two references to the most striking physical features); and seen by different people (seen by a lover, a parent, an enemy, an envious friend, ...).

These snippets may even focus on the characters of your project (if you're the impatient type and want to get started as soon as possible). It will give you a good feel for the characters before you start writing. You can also do this for important places in the novel or, rather than write snippets, you can write short scenes. Try action scenes from diffeernt POVs or written from the very descriptive to the very fast. Contrast using short sentences, long sentences or a mix.

Remember that these exercises don't need to be used in the novel, you're just stretching your muscles.

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  • Yes it is the same for me. when i get an idea for a short story, i immediately connect it to the longer story and so feel like i can use it better in the longer plot. your last paragraph is very helpful. – Dev Mar 20 '17 at 11:27
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    You could also consider writing "short stories" (not sure how that relates to "snippets") about the world you plan on using, or some of your characters. It doesn't have to relate directly to your main story, but it can get you thinking of the details and nuances of characters. It will probably help flesh out inconsistencies you may not notice in your head. I think it could be a neat exercise to write a short story about a very minor character in your main novel. You could flesh out the world and develop a character without thinking too much on your main story and getting too into it. – JMac Mar 21 '17 at 12:27
  • @JMac: By snippet I mean a short text that doesn't necessarily have any plot, like a simple description of a person entering a bus. But your idea of short stories is also very helpful. – SC for reinstatement of Monica Mar 21 '17 at 13:51
  • @SaraCosta Okay, that is what I thought you meant (which is why I suggested stories as well). Both definitely would be useful. – JMac Mar 21 '17 at 15:17
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On the one hand, writing something short is clearly less time investment than writing something long. When people decide to learn carpentry, they usually start with a birdhouse or bookends and not with a 30-room house.

On the other hand, writing a short story is very different from writing a novel. A novel is not just a short story stretched out to fill 300 pages. At least, a good novel is not. Likewise a good short story is not a summary of a novel. If I wanted to learn auto mechanics, I wouldn't start with Hot Wheels cars because those are smaller.

So I think my advice would be: If you have an idea for a novel, and also an idea for a short story, start with the short story. But if you have ideas for novels and short stories just aren't what you're interested in writing, then start work on a novel.

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One possible approach: Think of a "season" for a television show. There are a fixed number of episodes, which run once per week. Each show has a few common characters, and a few common locations. Each week, there will be guest performers who establish the topic of the week's episode.

So, each episode is like a short story. But they are not entirely self-contained, since it is assumed that the viewer knows something about the continued characters and location.

There the analogy ends: A show's season has a finite number of episodes, but rarely do they connect as part of a larger plot, and rarely is the final show an "ending" (because there may be another season). Yet it can be done.

So, I suggest you write short stories with common characters and locations. Arrange them so that what happened in one story has an influence on what will happen in a later story. Then, you are on the road to a novel.

The difference between that, and just writing a novel? You do not need to start out with a plot for the whole thing. See what happens in the individual stories, then knit them together later.

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Do what you enjoy.

It cannot be true that both 'writers must write x numbers of books before being publishable' and also 'having something on the page is better than nothing.'

If you want to write the novel do so.

The success (or not) must depend on what you bring to the effort. It simply must. Perhaps you are older, or younger. Perhaps you have written in other formats. Or not. Perhaps you have had many creative writing courses, and many assignments and prompts geared towards story arcs and characters and you have a driving need.

The numbers vary widely anyway.

Also, we do have the internet these days which was not true when the 'five books of unpublishable' was first put out.

Also, we have options now. This opens up new avenues. A book can be published traditionally, marketed, and so on. Or published independently. Or shared for free on the internet. I would imagine Bill Gates could write anything he wanted, make it free on the internet, not suffer at all, and still have a decent readership of said writing. Not true thirty years ago.

Those of us who want traditional publishing and wide reach face a different set of issues than those of us writing memoirs for our children.

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If you are planning to write practice is key. A short story can be part of a larger one.

Try using the snowflake method to fill out your story Basically start with a paragraph summary of your story, then break it into 3 parts writing a paragraph for each.

The repeat the process adding detail as you go through the process with each card

https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

Some great blog posts with (almost) a template you could try as an exercise I would love to summarise this, but it would take all day!

http://www.betternovelproject.com/blog/master-outline/

And online free tools like http://www.wavemaker.co.uk might help structure It also has some info on the Snowflake method

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    Welcome to Writing.SE! Link-only answers like this are frowned upon, as links can break over time. If those links include information that answers the question, would you mind summarising that info in your answer? Thanks! – F1Krazy Feb 8 '18 at 11:48
  • Hi... That would be a lot of information. I can summarise a bit, but really to learn about the snowflake method you need to read about it. – Iain Wood Feb 13 '18 at 15:22

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