Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Short Is Sweet ... c.anne.gardner

"Short is sweet when it comes to fiction. Novels don't have to be long to say something — just look at A Clockwork Orange, The Great Gatsby and The Outsider, all of which barely break the 100-page barrier and fit nicely in your back pocket. That's the thing with diminutive novels: they're not born of a lack of something to say. Rather, they come when novelists feel confident enough to say their thing in as few words as possible." -- Robert Collins The Guardian

I have to say that I agree with Mr. Collins here, and it’s not because I write novellas, which is my form of choice, but because, while I love the sweeping epic doorstop with hundreds of characters and sub-plots, I also like psycho-dramas that have a much tighter focus, dramas where ambiguity is a technique used for effect and not a flaw in the writer’s command of the craft. Alesandro Baricco’s novella “Silk” which I reviewed yesterday aptly proves my point.

As a writer, working with the short form suits my writing style and is of great benefit to me during the editing/revision process. I find that I write spare, subjectively, and extremely hyper focused on the thesis I am exploring. The benefit to me during the revision stage is that I rarely have to cut anything because I haven’t over-written.

The only thing I disagree with is that often what is wrongly labelled as a short novel is in fact a novella, written to the very stringent specifications that the genre demands. See my earlier piece on the novella. In any case, it’s nice to see some appreciation of the short form being bandied about by the likes of the Guardian. My hope with the ebook revolution is that the novella will enjoy renewed popularity. The Romance and Sci-Fi genres are already embracing it, and literary fiction over the ages would have been at a loss without the likes of Camus’ "The Stranger" among others.

Cheryl Anne Gardner


Jim Murdoch said...

I have a lot of time for novellas. There's hardly a novel I've ever read where I've not wanted to cut chunks from it, mainly descriptive passages that go on and on. I'm working on a review of one just now, The Pigeon by Patrick Süskind which clocks in at a mere 77 pages. An absolute delight.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Oh I love Suskind. I can't wait for your review so I'll know whether to add it onto my TBR pile or not.

DED said...

My hope with the ebook revolution is that the novella will enjoy renewed popularity.

I'd certainly like to see that happen. I've certainly seen too many agents claim that it was DOA as traditional publishers weren't interested in the form. However, I've already seen traditionally published sci-fi (as you pointed out) authors return to it: first in anthologies and now by small press.