Stories long and short

TOUCHSTONE is beginning to prowl around the dark boundaries of my mind, making its presence felt. Considering that I’m supposed to begin writing the thing in six weeks’ time, I suppose that’s a good thing, however, I could wish I had a clearer idea of What It’s About.

I know WHO it is about, and where, and when. But it’s hard to write what passes as a mystery or suspense without Something Happening. Plot is a necessary part of what we do here, although at times working out the details has all the excitement and romance of working through a waist-high stack of ironing.

What would I rather do? Well, I’ve got myself committed to not just one, but two short stories. Dana Stabenow twisted my arm when we were walking through Chicago during BoucherCon (Note to self: Never agree to anything while at a conference) for a collection she’s doing that’s slightly sci-fi. And today I found myself telling Michael Connolly I’d do a story for his MWA collection about The Badge, the theme of which will be the Wambaugh comment, “The best cop stories are not about a detective working on a case, but a case working on a detective.” I’ll probably summon up Kate Martinelli for the purpose, and I’m playing with the idea of another appearance of Brother Erasmus from TO PLAY THE FOOL. (This would be for 2007, so kindly do not hold your breath.)

I write few short stories, since I find the creative labor about as much work as for a novel, although clearly the actual setting down of words takes less time. I have decided that the only stories I’ll do are things I can eventually work together in a novel-sized collection, a series of linked vignettes that come together in the end. Both of those can be worked into that, along with most of those I’ve got out there, including the story in Otto Penzler’s basketball collection to be published in January (news of which will go onto the web site sometime next month.)

Some writers think well in short stories; others of us need the scope of several hundred pages to tell the sort of tale that catches our imagination. Those luck few who do both with equal facility can’t understand why someone doesn’t just toss off a few short stories when they have a slack period.

Personally, I think they’re like apples and oranges: the only way you can give both is with some mighty (and to me, unnatural) effort.

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  1. Anonymous on November 18, 2005 at 6:23 pm

    Interesting to hear your take on novel vs. short story, and even more encouraging to hear that you struggle with plot sometimes, too! I can write a billion words,easily, they just pour out, but plot a decent story? That, my dear, is a feat.

    By the way, I’m posting anonymously because I’m sitting in a noisy coffee joint, trying to think up a plot!


  2. bani on November 21, 2005 at 7:50 am

    “The best cop stories are not about a detective working on a case, but a case working on a detective.”

    Thanks for reminding me of that little maxim (or is that too pretentious a word?)! I had completely forgotten about it – and it’s a good one to bear in mind when reading crime fiction. That said, I’m not sure I agree with/can commit myself to that sentiment 100%. Sometimes it’s enough that the case is working someone else than the detective, I have to say.

    I used to work in a small supermarket, where I had a morbid fantasy that one morning there would be a dead body in the big press-machine-thingy we used to compact empty boxes into recyclable massive cubes of cardboard. You know, I’d pull the lever, it would start grinding, and blood would seep out. :-O I hereby give you this idea. If it unlinks your chain of thought I’m sorry…

    Have you read Dorothy Sayers’ short stories feat. Lord Peter? There’s a hilarious one where they run around solving a crossword puzzle to find a will…

  3. Anonymous on November 21, 2005 at 5:51 pm

    Just had to comment on ‘short stories.’ I usually don’t bother reading them. I find that they are not substantial enough. They are little snippets of story – lacking in the ‘meat’ of a full-length novel; too little character development. So – Laurie – I’m with you on the preference. Save yourself for the long juicy stuff!

    linda in delaware

  4. Casey Taylor on December 2, 2005 at 11:19 pm

    I am glad you prefer novels. I get so wrapped up in your novels, I do not want them to end. I am amazed at the detail in each one & so thankful that you have chosen to bless others with your gift. I for one do not want Mary Russell to die ever, just as those in the early 1900’s did not want Sherlock Holmes to die. She is a fascinating character.
    Thank you,
    Casey in Pensacola

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