How Writing Is Like Brain Surgery
The other day , a new writer came to me and said that they really want write a novel, so they planned to start with short stories to get their feet wet.
Uh…no. NO. A thousand times NO!
I always like to compare short stories and novels to psychiatry and brain surgery. While both fix the brain, they don’t fix it in the same way and they NOT interchangeable.
Novels Are Like Psychiatry.
If you’ve ever been in therapy, then you know it takes forever. Novel writing can seem to take forever too. A psychiatrist is highly trained, but mistakes are often forgiven. After all, a psychiatrist usually has time to fix the mistake, and so does a novelist. Over time, the entire world, and inner workings of the characters become clear. This could take place through chapters taking place in several hours or several years. Subplots get introduced, the same way a therapist might tell you the reason you act ‘this’ way is because you have ‘low self-esteem’.
Short Stories Are Like Brain Surgery.
It takes a shorter amount of time to perform the operation (aka, write your story) but it doesn’t take any less training. Each word holds a great deal of weight in a short story, the same way each flash of the surgeon’s knife matters. There’s no time to fully develop characters or worlds, yet somehow, each must be in place. Subplots and covering vast expanses of time are out, similar to the way a brain surgeon doesn’t worry about you ‘feel’, just if they ‘broke’ something. Mistakes aren’t so easily forgiven. If you make a mistake in a short story, the reader notices, the same way a patient’s family would notice if the brain surgeon made a mistake.
Don’t try to learn brain surgery when what you need to learn is psychiatry. (the reverse is also true.) Novels are not natural progressions of short stories. Authors like Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Ambrose Bierce never wrote a single novel, but they were great at telling short stories.
You can be a great writer by writing either. You just need to understand the nuances of your chosen discipline and then go for it.