Novel v. Anthology

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Title: Novel v. Anthology
Creator: Flamingo
Date(s): March 29, 2002
Medium: post to a mailing list
Fandom: has a focus of Starsky & Hutch
External Links:
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Novel v. Anthology is a 2002 essay by Flamingo.

The essay was sparked by a question by a fan: "Do people plan a novel? Do writers sit down and decide that their story is going to be novel length, or does it just happen? It would seem from some of the things Flamingo says, that it happened - at least with some of hers. What about anyone else? I know the novel length stories that I'm working on just happened, I didn't plan them to be that way."

It was posted to VenicePlace, a Starsky & Hutch mailing list on March 29, 2002 and is quoted here on Fanlore with Flamingo's permission.

This essay was written as a companion piece to Novel Ideas vs Short Story Ideas, also by Flamingo.

Some Topics Discussed

  • the differences between pro writing and fan writing
  • the beauty of succinctness
  • the freedom of fan writing
  • some Starsky & Hutch fics
  • fans and immediate gratification

The Essay

If you're talking about traditional story writing, to place fiction in today's dwindling markets, you have to make decisions about story length. Selling a story longer than 5,000-7,000 words is rare. There are very few places that will even look at novellas. One of my short stories had to be cut in half to make a sale. Even novels are a problem, as publishing is all about the numbers -- how many pages, how much will the book cost, what genre to market it in. All my pro novels had to lose 100 pages to keep the price of the book within a certain range. I got so used to doing it, I called in "unwriting." :-/

Fortunately, in fandom, there aren't those kinds of restrictions. Certainly, net publishing is limitless in style, form, genre, length, presentation, etc. Just look at the wide variety of stories and story types on the Archive. And zine publishing, while still a lot of work, is so much easier these days that there are few restrictions on producing stories there, either.

However, fans put their own restrictions on things, which often have to do with time involvement. I've heard more than one writer say, after someone's edited their story, "But if I do all the things she wants me to do for this story it'll take *forever*." Or, "I know the story is more complicated than I'm presenting it, but if I really get into all of it, it'll turn into a novel!"

I don't believe the net invented "immediate gratification" -- I think television did that long before the net existed. As fan readers and writers we do have a tendency to want more fiction *right away* -- but I think we always did. However, the reality of zine culture, where it took a lot of time and expense to collect stories, edit them, type them up, produce them into a zine and then *hand collate* them, meant that fans accepted that they had to wait. Sometimes years. Ask any veteran fan about Bird of Paradise. ;-) However, I don't believe that if pre-net print zines had been easy to produce that fans wouldn't have been impatient for more of them and to have them produced quicker -- they just didn't have that choice.

It's hard to decide to spend the amount of time it takes to completely flesh out the story you've stumbled into -- never mind go out of your way to add more subplots. The urgency of the story in your head screams to be completed, to be shared, friends are begging you to see it -- and the avenue is there to do that. It's hard to resist.

But if you're talking about story *ideas*, some most definitely are short story ideas and some are novel ideas. It always frustrates me when people take a meaty, complicated idea and race through it and present it as a short story while I sit around spluttering, "But...but what about

  • this*??? And that? And you never followed through on this thing either!

And...and..." Likewise, the story idea that clearly is not that complicated and should be a good, satisfying short story can be dragged on endlessly until you start rolling your eyes and dozing off and wondering why didn't someone *cut* this shaggy dog down to its primary focus.

I wanted TE to be a novel, so I deliberately focused on a problem what would affect every aspect of their lives and every relationship they had. I knew ILIR: Colby was a basic, simple idea that could be explored in a reasonably-lengthed (especially for me) short story. I know a lot of fans don't approach fiction this way, and I don't always. I had no idea how long Addiction would be. I just knew it was complicated. I thought Helen was going to be longer than it turned out. But I do think you have to ask yourself, how complicated is this conflict. How much of an affect will it have on their lives, their relationships, their culture, their times? If it's a two-person, highly focused conflict with a lot of immediacy, not much. Like [April Valentine's]...oh, please let me be right about this...Breath of Life? Where Starsky is trapped under water and Hutch has to breathe for him. This is a powerful, gripping, unforgettable story -- but there's no way it could've been a novel. It would've lost all its power if it had been dragged out too long. It was perfect the way it was presented, so that you were gripping the zine with two hands [since our favorite people *can* die in zine stories] worrying like hell what was going to happen.

A writer can save themselves a lot of aggravation if they take a good hard look at their idea before they get totally embroiled in it and realize they've bitten more off than they *want* to chew. Most complicated ideas can be pared down to make reasonable and still satisfying short stories, or slightly longer short stories. But if you ignore some of the major issues your stories raise because you just can't cope with the time and investment factor -- all reasonable problems -- don't be surprised if people are unhappy with you if you try to squeeze it all in in just a few pages.

Me, I want to learn to write like the woman who wrote Gunther's Revenge. In my hands that thing would've been a 600 page top heavy overblown monster. In her hands it was a lean, spare story with all the power packed into it of a major novel read.