Hello everyone, and welcome to our "tWR Interviews", where we interview experienced writers of our community about the art of writing!
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Today we're interviewing doughboycafe, ThornyEnglishRose and LadyLincoln on the characteristics and differences between a standalone story and a chaptered one. And raspil has some knowledge for us too!
If you want to get some more educational reading, here are the other interviews we've released so far:
- On Writing
- Prose and Poetry Basics
- To Rhyme Or Not To Rhyme?
- Description and Vocabulary in Prose
- Characters, Imagery and Metaphors
- Vocabulary, Narrative Voice and POV
- Rhetoric Figures in Poetry
- Plot Building
- Poetic Prose
- Fixed Form Poetry
This interview focuses on chapter VS standalone prose.
What is the difference between an idea that is worthy of standalone and an idea that is worthy of chapters?
raspil, To get the arrogant answer out of the way: I've been doing this long enough to know how many words a story is worth.
Now here's the regular, human answer: It depends on the potential the idea has. If I write something short and it is well-received, I might find a way to expand on it. But it has to happen organically, I can't force it. Seriously though, you do his long enough, you start to get a feel for what will only work between 2000-3000 words and what is better suited for 50k and up.
doughboycafe, I think it has more to do with how long it will take to explore that idea or resolve it. I´ve seen long books with just one idea, short stories with many things going on at once. I feel like often times (though, not ever time) a book will take you start to finish through an issue whereas sometimes a stand-alone only really gives you a snapshot of something. So, if it doesn´t really take that long to explain something or make a point about it, then you´ve got a one shot. If you need more time to delve, it will be chapters.
ThornyEnglishRose, An idea itself may be suited to both, but then you would approach them in very different ways and get different effects, so perhaps it is purpose rather than premise that determines the better medium. If you want to give your reader a short, sharp message, then a short story is the way to go; if you want to take them on a journey where they can get to know your characters over days and weeks, then give them chapters. Of course, there's no denying that volume of ideas comes into a account. I don't wish to oversimplify, but nor do I wish to overcomplicate. You might for example want to explore a plethora of problems and joys faced by a group of people, like in Alcott's Little Women, or you might want to highlight just one or two aspects of their society, as in her short story 'The Quite Little Woman' (which is set in an orphanage and focuses on the issues therein).
LadyLincoln, For me, the differences are found in the details and one’s expanding story line. If the particular story line involves a great deal of detail – by all means – it certainly merits more chapters. I prefer to be a reader of shorter prose or organized chaptered stories. Ideally, if the general idea the writer is attempting to express cannot be conveyed in under four pages – the story needs to be properly expanded.
Are you a writer of standalone stories or chaptered, longer ones? Is there a reason why?
doughboycafe, I do both, but lately I’ve been preferring writing short stand-alones which I never started out doing. I like the way short standalone pieces can have an impact like a sucker punch. I find myself paying closer attention to why every single word is in place with my shorter work (though that is clearly something I ought to apply to my longer work as well ) I still like writing books, because I still enjoy how complicated I can make them and how deep I can get into a problem with them.
ThornyEnglishRose, Both, because they are both challenging and enjoyable in their own way. Any halfway decent short story I write ends up on DeviantArt, for people to enjoy and for me to get feedback and try to improve. On the other hand, I'm very protective about my novels, and will only post odd chapters here - a compromise between hugging it to my chest until it's perfect, and wanting feedback to help me achieve that perfection (or at least, get it as well written as I possibly can). If I were going to make it in the fierce, competitive world of literature, I'd be a novelist. The reason why is simply that I prefer novels; I just love that long, intimate journey I mentioned in my last answer.
LadyLincoln, I do both, but tend to lean towards chaptered, longer ones. My joy comes primarily with novel writing, because I enjoy plot planning, writing dialogue and fleshing out my characters.
Do you prefer reading one over the other? Is there a reason why?
doughboycafe, I prefer reading both, as long as they are well written. I hate reading books that could have been short stand-alones and I hate reading stand alones that don´t have enough meat. But done well, I like both.
ThornyEnglishRose, Chapters, for the reasons I have mentioned, since reading and writing really do go hand-in-hand - no, more than that, for they are in fact in a full and happy marriage. If I like or love a story and its characters, I want to spend a lot of time with them. I do enjoy short stories as well (and couldn't reasonably try to write them if I didn't), but novels are my favourite.
LadyLincoln, It depends solely on the story. If it draws in my interest continually, I will gladly read longer prose – I also enjoy concise, shorter prose and poetry, if done well. Length little matters. Engaging stories are a draw, period.
What would you recommend a beginner prose writer start with, standalone or chaptered/novel-like prose? Why?
doughboycafe, They are equally challenging to do well. I think stand-alones might be a little easier just because they are less work intensive; you won’t spend weeks writing them start to finish, putting out pages and pages every day. At the very least, you are looking at a smaller word count. And, I do think that outlining is important with both stand-alones and chaptered work, but as the stand-alones will have considerably less outlining involved, they can be good practice for longer, more work intensive projects.
ThornyEnglishRose, Standalone. Whilst I don't wish to imply that they aren't as challenging, or you don't need to work as hard, the sheer fact that they're shorter means you can concentrate your efforts for the best results. One of the challenges is economising with words; beginners trying to write a short story will often find themselves on the path to writing a novella, and not a very good one if it contains the content of a couple of thousand words. You must master making your writing shorter before trying to make it longer!
LadyLincoln, I would recommend longer prose and/or novels, because writers have more leeway and freedom to expand their stories. Standalone stories can be quite difficult for some – unless the story idea and focus is tight right off the bat, and directly on point.
Do you think there's a different approach to writing chaptered and standalone prose, and if so, what's yours?
doughboycafe, I think the process is pretty different between the two, but I can’t speak to the differences for any writer but myself. For me, I edit as I go with shorter stand-alone works, because I’m more focused on the actual words than getting from point a to point b. I have a limited amount of time and space to transmit exactly what I want to say. With chaptered works, I tend to write it all, then go back and make 3 or 4 passes at it before I even call it a second draft. I’ll outline first and stick to that, but longer pieces for me are more about getting it done in broad strokes, and then fixing things, because if I revise mid process I have a tendency to get hung up on things and then stall out and not finish.
ThornyEnglishRose, For me, the basic approach is the same, which is to put into practise what I've learnt: use only the words you need; don't overstate; pace the story well etc. The plot is more voluminous and there are likely to be more characters in a longer piece, which means more planning and more threads to tie together. Such a piece is likely to turn up more errors and inconsistencies than a short story, and personally I have been known to get myself bogged down into some horrendous editing for longer pieces (this may mean that I do need to change my approach to novel writing!). But the writing of any prose, for me, requires the same basic skills and rules of thumb. That's why I recommend starting with short stories before attempting to write a novel.
LadyLincoln, Not particularly. To me, it is about properly planning. Without that appropriate planning, organization, and a very clear-cut idea of what direction the shorter story is taking – I feel it is better to stay with a longer prose length to leave freedom for expansion. My own approach to writing either form is a lengthy book of post-its that contain notes for dialogues, future plots, and character summaries.
Some questions for our readers!
- Did any of the answers catch you off guard?
- Did any of the answers particularly connect with you?
- Are there any questions that you would have answered differently?
A big, big THANK YOU to all who participated in this interview, your contribution was amazing. If you reader have any questions, tag the deviant you want to ask them to! They knew they were signing up for it. Totally.