Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Series of Short Stories

I recently read somewhere that a novel can be viewed as a series of short stories. I think that I heard this before, but it did not have the impact on me then as it has now. Thinking of a novel in this way has some benefits (for me perhaps).

First, thinking of a novel this way may allows me to work on one piece of the work at a time. Since I am someone who likes structure that can be quite useful. I can then concentrate on one short story at a time and truly get a feel for the events that take place within that portion of the novel.

Second, this may help me because there would always be an explicit story arc to grab the reader's interest. Each of these mini story arcs can help a story move along. In addition, breaking a novel in this way could help me focus better on creating tension on every page.

How many short stories a novel can be broken down into depends upon how the novel is organized. Using a three act structure presents several options.

  • 2 short stories (acts 1 and 3) and a novella (act 2)
  • 4 short stories (one for acts 1 and 3; two for act 2)
  • 8 flash fiction stories (two for acts 1 and three; four for act 2)

Although these "short stories" would not be true short stories by definition of word count it shows the general concept I'm trying to portray. The first two options can be useful for novels that need a slower pace (e.g. epic fantasy). The final option could be useful for faster paced novels (e.g. thrillers). My current novel may be fit better with the first two options I think.

I am still experimenting on how to structure and plan my writing. Every day I read advice on blogs and workshops on how other writers are able to write successful novels and stories. Some of this advice has helped me whereas some just does not work for me. I am finishing up the first act of my current novel in progress so I may look at this break down as an option for my next act.


  1. This is an interesting post, Schmidt.

    I don't trust my skill at writing short stories, yet I'm trying for something like the second act-as-short-story option. I think I can solidify my novel's plot that way.

  2. I'm still experimenting but I'm outlining one section of my novel where essentially the plot can be summed up as "the main character must escape the enemy to warn her leaders of the enemy's plans." Although this section will only be four chapters or so long, outlining it as a short story allows me to set up that sequence with a beginning, middle, and end. I can even outline it using a three act structure complete with climaxes. I don't know how well it will work but I'm hoping this will at least help me bring tension to every page.