Friday, 7 September 2007

An egg or a nest?

The difference between a short story and a novel...

A short story is an egg, a novel is a bird's nest. For me, a short story pops into my head in one piece, and by the time I've written it down, it's finished, complete, and I'm unlikely to make any but the most minor changes. This process takes four to six hours.

A novel is quite different, and takes much longer. I start with an idea of what it will be like, then as I write I go back, make alterations, add scenes, and incorporate things I observe day to day. Like the blackbird who built a nest in my balcony bay tree; string, cellophane and the odd bit of wire she came across in the urban landscape were all woven into the construction, and the earth below was littered with discarded twigs and leaves.

As I queued for fish in Waitrose, a man pushed in front of me. I remonstrated, he was rude, and another man took my side. The instant aggression that sprung up between the two men was startling. It seemed they might hit each other.

My one thought was, I've underwritten the altercation with Farren and Edric...must change it.


  1. Lexi,

    That is a great observation. I think that too often we are afraid to take our characters to places of real stress and danger and sorrow. And if a seemingly inconsequential encounter between a bore and a gentleman can escalate that quickly imagine what can happen when people are in really extraordinary situations, as characters in stories pretty well by definition should be.

    Like I told Norm, my self imposed 10 minute a day limit on the web is being trampled regularly, but at least I find I'm spending my still abbreviated time in tightly targeted places.

    Like here!


  2. Hi Alan,

    Lovely to hear from you.

    Good that you're winning, at least to some extent, with your struggle to escape the tentacles of the web.

    I am trying not to pester you (so don't feel shunned or ignored).



  3. Others might put the two together and make soup.

    Sorry, not helpful.

  4. Are you referring to a special type of forestry cooking for emergencies only?

    Twigs, grass, mud and eggs as the ingredients of soup???

    Stirred with a trusty Biltmore Stick, I suppose.


  5. The allusion was to Bird's Nest Soup, a Chinese delicacy. Not all allusions, metaphors, similes catch fire (so to speak).

    Back to the drawing board.

  6. Never one to shirk research, I've looked up a recipe for Bird's Nest Soup.

    You are right, it does have egg whites in, as well as the nest. It has loads of other ingredients as well, such as chicken breasts, onions, and sherry.

    Personally, I'd just as soon they left out the nest. It says,

    'Remove any prominent pieces of 'foreign' matter (e.g. feathers, twigs).'


  7. We are going to check out a Thai restaurant Anne read about a few days ago. Not a big lemon grass, etc. fan, but looking forward to it anyhoo.

    Your purchase has finally popped up on my online statement w/iUniverse. That makes a big four sold in the UK. Besides you I know Phil Whitaker bought one but the others I have no idea. And that's kind of cool.

    I just called the hotel where we are going to be staying for the meeting next week. "No", the in room safe isn't big enough for a laptop (that's stupid), "No" there is no free wifi on premises (how nice, not) and in-room internet is eleven bucks a day.

    So from late Monday morning to Friday evening I will incommunicado as far as the web is concerned. Looks like me and my cheap fountain pen are going to be spending some extra quality time together.

    And now on to Chapter 13 in the new and improved "The Baer Boys". I think I know what the next darned thing is Darin will have tossed in his path. Thinking of it that way is actually pretty fun.

  8. I hope you manage to enjoy the change of scene and get loads written. I find I can only manage scruffy notes with pen and paper these days.

    Enjoy your Thai meal. I had one once, I think, back in the eighties - different, quite nice.

  9. Alan: Good luck on the fretting. Have you read Chris Moore's Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove? Bar owner hires a blues player in hopes of getting more people in the bar to drink (alcohol as self-medication).

    LV is a place where an AlphaSmart would come in handy.

    Lexi: Thai in the '80s? You don't get out much do you? If Minty were a vegan you might eat Thai food more often. My youngest is vegan and Thai is one of his favorites.

  10. I'm actually rather looking forward to being left alone with pen and paper.

    The Thai food was good. The service excellent except when it came time to get our check. For me that can spoil an otherwise terrific dining experience, sitting there trying to flag down someone so you can get on with your evening.

    I need a progress report from both of you. I have tossed about 3500 words from Pink Belly as it changes direction. Not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Just about to the point where he encounters his high school sweetheart. She turns out to be the mother of his favorite student. And the not dead coach will have to be fended off somehow. Perhaps I'll have Darin purchase a cattle prod. Or a Biltmore stick.

  11. Norm, it is only too true I don't get out much. My social life makes Emily Bronte's look a riot.

    Alan, what sort of progress report are you referring to? If you want a reader, I'd be happy to oblige, but might be of limited use because too uncritical of your writing.

    A review of Trav on YWO today said, 'I was hooked from the great one-line opening and read on enthusiastically.' And it's your great one-line opening! I am extremely (imagine this underlined and in italics) grateful.

  12. An opening line can only do so much. And remember, you're the one who wrote it in the first place. All I did was suggest a change of placement.

    I think I want to get a full MS before I have anyone check out more than what I've already got out there of The Baer Boys. Give me a decade or two.

  13. Lexi,

    Did heartening marks go with the heartening remarks? It's so nice when they do.


    Mary and I are working on CEFGW together. I only have what's on YWO for Pink Bely/Baer Boys. Send me what you've got and we'll throw our energies into it.

  14. Yes, I was doubly heartened.

    The reviewer looks to be a good writer, too, which adds to the satisfaction.

  15. Norm,

    Let me get a at least a bit further into the thing before I put it out for examination. Although if I get stuck I might hustle it your way to see if you or Mary have any ideas on what direction(s) might be worth exploring. This whole personal growth type of novel is kind of daunting for me.