Wednesday, August 22, 2007

To Be Continued

Drop't in to See the Widow,
John G. Brown ( 1831-1853)
oil on canvas.

Someone, somewhere, (my usual source) commented recently that this electronic generation - partly because of time constraints and the ADD syndrome induced thereby - are particularly open to lunch-hour reads, and writers should not get their Shorts in a knot. Source suggested that anthologies and short stories and novellas would grow in popularity because they satisfy a quick 'n dirty need.

About the same time I came across a publishing term, unfamiliar to me: Chapter Books. Seems children's Chapter Books, designed for the transitional reader, contain about the same word count as a chapter in an adult novel or the average short story.

Some people offer chapters of novels on their sites in serial style.

Some writers create addenda-type/backstory/prequil short stories which expand characters, themes and incidents from their published novels. Some writers' short stories become chapters in a later novels.

So, though the question may be based merely on semantics and thus on a distinction without a difference - like turning one's undersilkies inside out - I wonder if we might see another form emerge in publishing.

One shorter than a novella, self-contained and episodic around a central cast of characters - like a mini-series.

A formal, adult "chapter book."


Jaye Wells said...

You know, part of me balks at the idea of bite-sizing story just to appeal to a convenience-addicted culture. I enjoy investing time in characters and going on a journey with them.

Church Lady said...

Bernita, I absolutely can see this happening. I'm playing your model out in my head--a website devoted to a series of short stories (in the 1-8k word range). Website owner/writer gets paid via ad space.

Jaye, authors can develop characters in that amount of space. The word count limitations present challenges, but not insurmountable ones. Take the Junie B. chapter book series. She and her friends have fully developed/engaging personalities. Stanley and the Magic Lamp Series, The Magic Tree House series. The characters are the same, but each story is different.

Now apply this concept to adults, as Bernita suggested. I think it would be quite fun to try.

Use today's painting, for example. That would be on the website. Could you come up with ten short stories about this couple? I do believe so. I'd love to be with this couple in the kitchen, with their grandkids, with their neighbors, etc. Just look at them. Think of all the stories you can squeeze out. Quite fun. A brilliant idea.


Jon M said...

I used to have a 'thin books for GCSE' list that I knew would get my older pupils with short attention spans through their exams. We also use Hi content age, low reading age books quite a lot but they are confined to academic circles largely. I don't see any harm in these forms really but I do yearn for a society that can sit down by a fire and listen to a good long story!

Bernita said...

We've always been a convenience-addicted culture, Jaye.
I suspect the journey could be the same length, just more a question of focus on the highlights of the trip.

The model could work in POD or print publishing, Chris, not just relegated to a website with annoying advertisements.
Not brilliant, just a speculation about a possible direction.

Jon, one could argue that the mode exactly fits story telling by the fire.
We already have audio books, large print books, why not adult "thin" books ( an excellent term).

sex scenes at starbucks said...

The sword and sorcery short market has been doing this forever. In fact, I just had a request along with a rejection: This isn't right for me, but I'd like to see anything else you have in this world.

I'm also doing it with a vampire series of short stories. I don't want to write a vampire novel, what with the current glut on the market, but I'm not seeing much in the way of vampire short stories at my zine or any other.

BTW, as an editor, I would take a look at a vampire short story. I've only seen 1 in the last year and a half.

Anonymous said...

My CP pubbed a story in serial format. Once chapter (~3K words) was issued each week. I found the format annoying and preferred to read the whole thing at once. (She's since recontracted the story as a novella, yay).

I do like the shorts I can read on my Palm Pilot while The Boy is playing at the park, or we're waiting at the airport.

I think I tend to lean toward the techno things of the younger generation, I look forward to the day I buy The Boy his first ebook reader. Actually, he has a Leap Pad. Pretty much is one.

writtenwyrdd said...

I do not like reading short stories, haven't for many years. But I am trying to change my tastes and also learn to write them, because there do seem to be more markets for shorts and novellas than books!

December/Stacia said...

While there's nothing like a good novel, I admit over the years I've come to appreciate shorts and novellas more. I still don't like writing shorts, though.

Charles Gramlich said...

The stuff I've seen on blogs suggest that we may well be in the beginnings of such an emergence. Could be interesting. I've long been a fan of novella length works and would love to see that length and a bit shorter make a comeback.

Dave said...

The Blog "Powder Burn Flash" does 1000 word Noir-style fiction. It's a fun read.

Stephen King did "The Green Mile" in six parts. Perhaps it was ahead of its time.

I tend to read two books at one time as long as they are dissimilar - a non-fiction and a fiction. So I don't mind a serial format.

raine said...

I've always been a fan of short stories and novellas, and also thought they might increase in popularity for the ADS-generations. Can't say I've noted that to be true.

However, for me to really enjoy something shorter than a novella, the author REALLY has to do a bang-up job with it. If it doesn't pull me in immediately, if it doesn't captivate me, and if it's not complete unto itself and I'm still hungry afterward, that'll just piss me off. I still need the complete development, I'm afraid.

SzélsőFa said...

Are you suggesting that instead of new and looong stories, the concept of series will win the readership?
I think the same's happening with all those tv-series around the world. Same characters, or almost the same ones, slightly different stories each time.
This seems easier for the writer, but I put an emphasis on 'seems' - if s/he's a good writer, that is.
I think it must be quite a challenge to do a series, hm?

Scott from Oregon said...

These days, I rarely want to commit to a novel. I like short stories that resonate out past their endings and make you WONDER about more.

Some find this dissatisfying, I am sure.

Bernita said...

Lovely, lovely comments, everyone.
Thank you.
Probably just a wacky way of looking at what structures a story - like looking at the wedge, instead of the pie.
I suppose the viability of "thin books" ( thank you again, Jon) would also depend on today's production costs relative to the expense of standard length novels. Less words don't necessarily mean cheaper to produce.
Might mean the idea would work best in e-pub.
People buy DVD's of their favourite TV series, so the concept lends itself to eventual aggregation and collection.

writtenwyrdd said...

The fatter the book, the happier I am...unless I open it and see 16-point font!

The Anti-Wife said...

I like the concept of serial stories - TV like as SzélsőFa said. But no matter what length it is, the writing trumps all. It has to be well written and engaging and make the reader want to come back for the next chapter.

Bernita said...

Hmmm, think I'm adjusted to 85 -100,000 words, Written.
Longer than that and I begin to wonder about bloat.

Anyone else get a Google server error this morning when tooling around?

writtenwyrdd said...

About an hour and a half of no google. I thought the withdrawl would kill me!

Bernita said...

Goes without saying, AW!
As SS pointed out, certain genres, like SF/F have been providing similar collections for a long time, either about a vital character or a world.
Andre Norton did it with Witch World.
If one has a viable character or a "world" one isn't required to write a full novel - first.
One can start "small".

Bernita said...

Written, I went and worked on a short story - which only goes to show my priorities are screwed!

Bernita said...

I'm fond of series, AW, and good writing, no matter if it's short or long, always leaves me wanting more, more, and more.

kmfrontain said...

I've always viewed the lives of my characters from the series perspective, whether TV, movie, or trilogy (though I'm avoiding writing trilogies if I can help it). I learned that what sells sells again if the author writes more about the reader's favourite character. This serialisation of shorter stuff is just more of the same idea to me, just better encapsulated perhaps, because of those lunch hours maybe.

Bernita said...

"I've always viewed the lives of my characters from the series perspective"
And that, Karen, sounds to me like excellent advice.

Kate Thornton said...

As a short story writer who is now attempting a novel length story, I find this encouraging.

I like to write short, but the markets have just seemed to waste away. Maybe this is the start of something bi(ger)

Bernita said...

Kate, your short story experience will make for exciting episodes within your story arc.

Jeff said...

If I'm not mistaken, Charles Dickens wrote some of his novels in a serial format.
Honestly, any format (short story, novella, or full length novel) suits me as long as it is a good story.

writtenwyrdd said...

Dickens serialized all his works, if I recall correctly. I believe Twain did many of his, as well. It was fairly common because it sold papers.

Bernita said...

Indeed, Jeff and Written. Serialization was a common practise, one that persisted in magazines and weeklys far into the 20th century.

braun said...

I just saw this post via RSS. Recently I've basically trying to do exactly what you describe...

I'm writing a serial SF story on a blog I've setup ( It appears in 1500 word installments. I try and keep it light and fast and funny so it will hold people's interest. Hopefully the short length keeps people from straining their eyeballs at the screen.

I've been having a good time with it.

Bernita said...

Braun, Ghosts of the Black Moon?
Nice title!
Ghosts are my spectre du jour.
Sounds like a great exercise in pacing discipline, too.