Guest Editor Gary Soto re: Heeding Your Creative Instinct

posted 10/12/11

Dear Editor…

I have a short story that my writing group thinks could be a whole novel. I worked hard to distill this character’s story down to its essentials . . . I can’t seem to get my head around expanding it meaningfully. I feel like I’m adding stuff for the sake of adding pages. I hear about great novels that started off as short stories. What’s their secret?

Thank you,
M.

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Dear M.…

If you’re in a writers group, you may be expected to heed advice of others—that’s why you’re there, right? To listen, absorb, learn from others who are practicing this art of ours. However, I find that some will suggest revisions where revisions aren’t needed, new titles when the old titles will suffice, introduction of more tension (more screaming please!) when the story is adequately tense, etc. Now a colleague in the group—perhaps as he or she set her coffee cup down—has blurted, “Hey, this might be good as a novel, not a story?” Everyone chirps, “Great idea. You go, girl!”

I sense worry. I sense doubt. I side with you as we remember the maxim “When in doubt, remain in doubt.” In our art—fiction and short story writing—we live by hunches, what talent we are given, perhaps even the temperament that defines us—you, by nature, may color a smaller canvas. What’s wrong with that? This is you. You are not the Jackson Pollack of large canvases! You have a hunch that what you have done is a short story and will remain a short story. Are you being difficult? Are you losing an opportunity for a larger work? Probably not.

In short, if you try to lengthen the story into novel length, you’ll probably discover that it’s tough going—and, yes, those are tears of frustration falling on your keypad. My advice: recognize that the story is done. Now begin something else.

Stay strong,
Guest Editor Gary Soto

Gary Soto is the author of many much-loved middle grade and young adult novels, short story collections, poetry collections, and plays, including the acclaimed Baseball in April and Other Stories. He’s just published the new short story collection for young readers called Hey 13! and his first e-novel, When Dad Came Back. For more about Gary and his books, visit www.GarySoto.com.

P.S. For more on this topic, read Creative Process, Guest Editors, Teen/Middle Grade Fiction
Comments to "Guest Editor Gary Soto re: Heeding Your Creative Instinct" | Add a Comment
    1. Sharon K Mayhew wrote (on 10/12/11 at 11:30 am) :

      I’ve had an editor and a couple agents tell me that my hf picture book needs to be a mid grade novel. I am in the process of writing it. One thing I did was change the POV from the POV in the picture book. I write and think scene to scene, which keeps the story moving. :)

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    2. The Editor wrote (on 10/12/11 at 11:36 am) :

      Thank you, Gary. We writers can often feel like we have to take every suggestion, worrying that sticking with our gut hunch is just us being stubborn or scared. It’s great to be reminded that sometimes “as is” is just right.

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    3. Laura C. wrote (on 10/12/11 at 11:40 am) :

      Thanks so much for these great insights, Gary! I also have a short story that could be an MG novel, but it just isn’t coming… Plus, a crit partner just commented that there aren’t any life-and-death stakes in the first chapter of my new ghost novel. (They’re in the 2nd chapter.) Crit partners are great, but you have to trust your gut and believe in yourself.

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    4. Pamela DuMond wrote (on 10/12/11 at 12:08 pm) :

      Thanks Gary. This is just the perfect advice I need right now! Best,

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    5. Johana Gast Anderton wrote (on 10/12/12 at 12:22 pm) :

      This makes me think of a murder mystery I’m currently marketing. An agent rejected it because there were no spilled blood and guts in the first few pages. ‘Start with the inciting incident’ she told me. I reread the whole blessed thing and something in me said absolutely not. Then I recognized the problem: It isn’t a “murdery mystery;” it’s a “cozy mystery” which puts a whole new light on the rejection. My fault because I didn’t classify the work correctly. And – I think this is important – I stuck to my guns and didn’t change a thing. Sometimes you know your work better than anyone, including your loving critique group!

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      The Editor replied (on 10/17/12 at 1:53 pm) :

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Johana. Good luck with your marketing efforts!

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