Writers are returning to experimenting with shorter pieces

26 Oct 2011 in international | questo post è lungo 551 parole

Short Fiction Week

_David Gaughran

_David Gaughran is a 34-year old Irish writer, living in Sweden, who spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories, and writing about them.

_ David Gaughran | @davidgaughran

Novels can have pauses, faults: a long story wins by points. A novelette, as Julio Cortazar wrote, needs to win by knock-out. Do you agree?

It’s a necessity of the form. With a novel, you have to give the reader time to breathe and assimilate everything that went before, or else the narrative can become confusing. With a shorter piece, you can go full tilt from start to finish, and the best usually do. But shorter stories can win by a sucker punch too. Even a mediocre narrative can be saved by a fantastic twist.

Is there a literary bias against the short form of fiction?

I don't really think that's the case. Getting stories published in magazines was always (and is still) a well-trodden path to publication and recognition. While some may (mistakenly) look down on writers who "only" write shorter pieces, I don't think anyone is calling for Poe to be removed from the canon. I think writers may have been steered away from shorter work by agents and editors as collections and novellas were often a hard sell. But with digital publishing, the obstacles shorter work faced with regard to the economics of printing don’t exist and writers are returning to experimenting with shorter pieces for promotional purposes and pure love of the form. If there is a bias, I think it exists on the reader side as many exclusively read longer work. Part of that might have been down to literary magazines only pushing a certain kind of very introspective story. I think that’s changing, with an increasing amount of diverse voices producing shorter work.

Plot, setting, ideas. What are in your opinion the perfect ingredients of a novelette/novella?

The shorter a piece is, the tighter it must be. Aside from that, I have no real rules. Generally, it is advised to keep things simple – one overarching idea, limited amount of characters (often preferably one central figure), few locations, and little or no time-shifts, point of view changes, or sub-plots. However, I really enjoy when a writer throws all that out the window and attempts to shoehorn a novel-sized idea into a much shorter story, replete with red herrings, twists, multiple characters, and convoluted chronology. It doesn’t always work, but can result in an exhilarating story if done right.

Would you suggest 3 must-read novelettes/novellas?

If we allow a broad definition, Animal Farm by George Orwell, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Some might argue that the first two are “short novels” but I think that’s a marketing ploy as many readers don’t know what a novella is, let alone a novelette. And who can blame them? Writers and publishers can’t even agree!

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