Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Moving Forward in Reverse

My writing group is doing a short story anthology for April. Our theme is "the cruelest month," which is worlds better than anything else associated with the month of April. Thank you, T.S. Eliot.

I decided to write a short story, using my favorite detective protagonist, C.T. Ferguson. When I first devised the character, I wrote 12-15 short stories, finding the voice, establishing secondary characters, etc. Then, for National Novel Writing Month 2009, I decided I would try to stretch Mr. Ferguson out to a novel-length work. It was easier than I thought, and I've since written two others.

But I hadn't done a short story with this character since 2009. It felt like being home, but not the home I remembered. I had to rein in my desire for longer scenes, chapters, slower exposition, and all the trappings of a novel. I wanted to come in under 5000 words. Hell, I had written some 15 short stories with this character. It should heave been easy.

In the end, it was easy-ish. I wonder if other writers have this problem. Once you've written a book or three with a certain protagonist, is it harder to go back and feature him or her in a short story? Novels give us a lot more room and time to explore things, break out fancy subplots, develop characters, and flex our writer muscles. Short stories have to be more compact. We don't have time for all the things novels allow us to do.

The result was a story that I like, featuring a character whom I know much better than I did when I started down this road. I think I'll continue to write books featuring C.T., but scaling back to a short story here and there is a good challenge. And what's life--especially life as a writer--without a few challenges?

Have fun putting pen to paper.


  1. Tom, I am actually contemplating doing the same thing with my Marcus and Cole stories. I don't know if you've read them yet, but they're long enough where they could be expanded into a full novel.

    Hearing your experience with this makes me think it can be done. Question is, would I want to go back to short story format after the fact?

  2. Whether you would want to is a question only you can answer. I probably wouldn't have gone back and done a short story if not for the anthology. The thing is, short stories can be expanded into novels, so by not writing more short stories, you're limiting your pool of future novel material. It's an interesting line to walk.