The longer the piece you’re writing the more time you have to show the forward motion of the characters and plot. Think of the difference between a 6 part mini series and a 20 minute short film.
They have different things to get across to the viewer, different lengths of time to work in, and they must choose different methods for achieving that goal of ‘getting-across’ to the reader.
There’s a structure of Change vs. the structure of Choice in different lengths of work.
- Short stories are about making a choice.
- Novels are about change.
A choice takes a moment to occur – and writing about a moment in time (and the few moments that lead up to that big moment), works well with a piece that lasts perhaps 3,000 or less words.
Change requires time to occur and therefore a novel length work is better suited to detail the ins and outs involved in a character’s evolution, or devolution for that matter.
What constitutes a choice?
No matter how you draw it in your short story, a character has the option of making one of three choices:
- Positive choice (known as Yes. I will.)
- Negative choice (known as No. I won’t.)
- Non-choice (known as I choose to refuse to make a choice.)
- Example Toggle
Look at these types of choice a character can make in a short story:
I choose to refuse to acknowledge what has happened.
I choose to deny I have made a change in how I feel.
I choose to accept the lie you have told me.
I choose to allow that you have won this contest of wills, and I am the loser.
I choose to see the truth in spite of dreading it.
I choose to risk everything in my life to tell the truth in this situation.
I choose to lay down my sword because I believe in you.
I choose to drive my car into on coming traffic.
I choose to lay down my life for this cause.
I choose to allow you into my life.
I choose to give up medical school and become the stand-up comedian I know I can be.
I choose to sell my record collection, now that you’ve moved in with me and we need baby clothes.
Now, look at some Changes a character can make over the length of a novel, that is, a choice's aftermath evolves into a character's change:
Denial – into Resignation
I used to love her, young as she was, and now I see she was evil and I was deluded.
Fear – into Strength
Reality – into Reaction
Seeking – into Attainment
Immaturity –into Maturity
- Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle
Lesson Exercise 1:
This lesson’s exercise is a series of questions to ask yourself:
- What type of choice can I have my character make in my short story?
- For this novel, how can one choice move my character into the next one and the one following that?
- Is it better to switch up choices, some positive, some negative in my short story?
- Should I stick to one choice, or not in my short story?
- Will all my novel’s choices be given to the main character? Or should I give some of them to other characters, too?
- What novel or short story have I read where I recognize the choice of a character?
- How did that writer mange their character’s choices? Can I do something like that too?
Notice in your readings that choice can be a quiet gentle thing. It doesn't need to be large or dramatic in a short story. The same is even more true for novels, because over any amount of time, change can easily be gradual, as well as explosively quick. Consider your own writing goals and choose accordingly.
- Look at any short story you are done with or are about to finish. Where is choice in your work?
- As you build your novel, what changes will your character experience?
It’s always good when one of these three choices is made by a character in a short story. You can also use choices to drive portions of a novel; choice after choice can be made - driving your character through the pages of your novel until they have made a change.