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The Episodic versus the Novella

The short story or the novel; which is better? The answer, is one that I have struggled to answer for a few years now and actually the process and progress of this has been rather interesting. Let me allow you a snippet of myself, my life and my writing from over the years.

My younger self:

When I realized that I loved to write, I did what any amateur 14 year old author did (though I started writing at an earlier age). I wrote pages and pages and pages and pages of stories, just going with the flow, writing ideas as they came; just flying. At this point, I could not understand the point for short stories except for magazine articles that could not publish entire novels. I mean, how can you write about a single event when all the events leading to and following  make that single event even more meaningful. Was the full story irrelevant? Could a single episode, in a voluminous collection of episodes, capture the essence of the entire story? I did not think so. Where was the character development? Where was the story development? How could you get to the height of the story without first laying the foundation that will lead to that climax? I did not think it was worthwhile to capture a mere episode. What this led to was, me, an exam pad (sometimes a notebook) and a pen (or pencil) and a mind full of unexplored adventures, waiting to be discovered. I spent days, nights, Maths/English/Science/Biology classes, rides to and from school just writing and writing and writing all kinds of stories and ideas. It was fantastic to be able to just write all day but there was one downfall to this; I never finished even one of these stories. Too many ideas all flowing but as soon as inspiration ebbed, writing stopped and that draft was placed in a folder, with all the other unfinished writings. It became apparent that writing a novel…was hard work.

My older (current) self:

Although my days of writing page after page after page have gone by somewhat (occasionally I like to indulge in nonsensical scribblings to get the clutter out of my brain), I do miss those days when I just ran with an idea and went as far as I could. The biggest change to all that was the introduction of actual planning to my writing. By planning I do not mean I have an idea as to where I want my story to go, but a skeletal structure that guides me to the final result. This includes character bios, motives, events, chain of events etc so that once I start writing I always have a distinct goal. With short stories, however, the distinct goal becomes the final story and all events either leading up to that final event or events after, can be summarized to a single sentence or be completely irrelevant; its all about the here and now.

As to the answer of the question posed at the beginning of this post, it is a simple one: Neither is better than the other. It took those formative years as a young novelist to my current days as a short storiest (yes I just made that up…I have writers prerogative hehe) to figure out that, in the end its about what you are writing, what is the purpose/motive or inspiration behind it and how can it be best captured for an intended audience and specific purpose. Would a short story bring your point across in a more effective way than a novel or would the building of characters and story lines woven into a novel  achieve the desired goal? That would be up to the author. Right now I am enjoying the short, straight to the point stories that have a focal point that does not require long winded dialogue and a multitude of characters. No J.R.R Tolkien trilogies here folks.

With two short stories under the belt and a couple of “novels” creeping along steadily I would like to end this off with some encouragement for fellow authors. No matter how much you enjoy writing, it still becomes work, but work that brings much satisfaction. This is especially true when you write the last sentence of your short story or novel and are satisfied with the way it ended. Your thought/idea has, you are sure, been explored, dissected and concluded in the way you wanted it to, all your characters have reached their designated end whether its happily ever after or not and your storyline is complete. Yes at that end you look back and you say, “Praise the Lord for having guided me and given me the strength to continue on in this even in times when I was doubtful. Indeed it is by His strength that I have reached this far. By His grace He has given me this ability/gift of writing and all glory goes to Him not me.” Give credit to God for His kindness, grace and love. Ascribe greatness to our God the rock! Continue writing to the glory of God!

May His grace be poured out on us and may we live as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him as our acts of worship. Until the next post, may you have a blessed time!

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About Nthato Morakabi

Nthato Morakabi is a South African published author. He has short stories appearing in both international and local anthologies, and has published his first book, Beneath the Wax, which opens his three-part novella series "Wax". He is an avid reader, blogger and writer.

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