I never gave up on the idea of writing a novel, but I found myself focusing on shorter fiction. I was able to complete a piece in a matter of days instead of having a barely started manuscript sitting around and gathering dust.
It's been about five years since I made that switch and in that time I've penned over two dozen pieces along with several scenes that can and will fit into novel ideas that I have. As I'm reading through a book written to help writers plan and outline a book, I've realized the strengths and weaknesses that have come about from writing exclusively short works.
When you're confined to a few hundred or a few thousand words you have very little room for character development. The characters you create don't have to possess much depth. An undeveloped character will surprise the reader because they do not know what to expect out of him/her yet. That can get old quickly in a novel-length work, but is perfectly acceptable in a short work.
Instead, the focus of a short piece of fiction is usually on the story itself. Originality and surprise drive the reader to devour the story. I feel that I've done a good job learning to craft a gripping plot, at least for a short work. I may have to do a little work to adapt what I've learned to a longer piece, but the underlying ideas are the same.
What I feel weakest at, however, is character development. In a short story, a single plot point is enough to drive a character for a few thousand words. But for fifty or a hundred thousand words--you need someone more complex. As I'm planning out the novel, I'm realizing how simple my characters are. What drives them? They are who they are for a reason, but what exactly are those reasons?
As I've asked myself these questions and I begin to explore them, I've began to add extra layers to each character. I'm not finished yet, but it's a start. And doing it now, before I've written the bulk of the novel, I'm saving myself so much hassle. I'd have to rip up and rewrite a lot if I waited longer in the writing process.
I've also been realizing that my dialogue is a weak point. My characters talk the way that I write. That's wrong. People rarely talk the way they write, and each character is different. They each have their own unique voice, and I'm stifling them by making their dialogue indistinguishable from every other character.
When it comes to setting, I feel that I'm hit and miss. Sometimes I do an okay job and other times I fail to draw the reader into the page. I picture the surroundings in my mind and focus on moving the story along and forget some of the minor settings. Do they matter? Do add to the overall story or are they superfluous and occasionally distracting? I'm not sure.
I am learning a lot by going through this book. It's helping me to grow in my writing abilities and I'm only a fraction of the way through. I recently finished the first draft of a short story (a hair over 5,000 words) that is loosely connected to the novel I'm writing. As I go through some of the writing exercises I'm using this short work as practice. I'm eager to go through and give it an edit, but I want to wait and read more before I make my first edit. It'll take a while before it's truly finished, but at least it'll better (I hope).
I'm really excited for this literary journey that I'm on. The goal is to have the first draft of the novel completed by this time next year. Wish me luck!