Writing Process

How writing long fiction differs from short fiction

pendrecarc: How is writing long fiction different from short fiction?

Oh, long fiction is just more complicated! For me, anyway. I am still figuring it out, to be honest — I’ve only written one novel I can regard with any complacency. (I wrote two lurching horrors before that one, which I may rip up and do over one of these days, but in their current form they barely merit being called novels.) Maybe ask me again in 5-10 years, when I will hopefully have written more than one novel I am satisfied with!

But long fiction can also be more satisfying. I enjoy doing short fiction, and there is a focus and economy about the form that is very rewarding, so I don’t mean to imply that it’s a lesser form than the novel. But the things I’m really interested in as a reader and writer are things that are probably better developed within the larger scope of a novel. I’m interested in people and the dynamics between people, and for spending time with characters and getting to know them there is nothing to beat a book or series of books. I am also a big fan of the carefully chosen superfluous detail — the paragraph or six about someone’s dress or meal that helps immerse the reader in the world of the story — and there’s more space for that sort of thing in longer fiction.

On the complications, the main thing I’ve noticed is how difficult it is to pull >80,000 words into a continuous, coherent story! Firstly it’s hard to keep the story on track when you are only working on it for, say, an hour on average every day for several months. And then when you finally somehow manage to reach the end (keenly conscious that you have completely forgotten about several minor characters on the way, you haven’t wrapped up at least one key subplot, and your protagonist has undergone extraordinary unsupported transformations in her characterisation), you have to fix the mess. And every time you pick one bit of story to fix, you pull up a whole string of connected things you also have to fix. It’s like playing Jenga or something. /o\

I am hoping this will be less of a messy process once I have figured out how to outline before starting a novel. But I suspect it is always going to be quite iterative and involve me suddenly thinking, months after I have written the first draft, “Oh! That’s why Character X did that thing in Chapter 3!” and rushing around looking for a pen and piece of paper.


By the great horn spoon, I have finished my book! (Again.)

I finished my novel revisions! *flings confetti everywhere*

I feel less jubilant than that sounds, because the moment I was done it was borne in on me that everything I had written was TERRIBLE and nothing I had done had improved ANYTHING and all I had done was make more problems for myself, that I would doubtless FAIL TO SOLVE. In other words, this Captain Awkward post was pretty topical!

But I am going to let the book sit and stew in its own juices for a bit while I go off and joli katak in Cornwall, and then when I come back I will try to fix some of the new problems I have invented. And if those aren’t all fixed in Draft 5, that is all right, because I will just send it to my agent anyway and she can tell me how to fix it.

Which is to say — and I don’t think I’ve said this in public on the Internet yet — I’ve signed with a literary agent! \o/ The revisions are for her to look at. I queried my novel in early June and then had an extremely interesting three weeks, which I will blog about some day, but not now. Anyway I am very grateful to everyone who took the time to answer my questions about agents.

So that this post isn’t just “I did revisions! Yay! … They are terrible! Woe!”, here are some things I picked up in the course of working on the book. OED Online has been a hugely helpful writing tool (I get access through my library membership — one of many, many reasons why public libraries are a beautiful thing), and I particularly like the thesaurus. One of the things I stumbled across while clicking around was a list of non-religious, non-obscene oaths … and they are pretty amazing. Here is a selection!


By the mouse-foot. As in, “I’ll come and visit you; by the mouse-foot I will.”

Bread and salt. To take bread and salt is to swear. “No other wight, saue she, by bred & salt.”

By my hood and by my sheath. Do you mean … by your penis???

By the pody cody. This is “apparently a euphemistic alteration of body of God“.

What a/the goodyear. This is like what the heck, except it makes no sense. “What the goodyeere my lord, why are you thus out of measure sad?” (That is Shakespeare!)

Splutterdenails. As in, “Welsh Taffy he raves and crys Splutterdenails.” (I don’t understand that either. This sentence is a bit like the kind of sentence you would produce in school when they made you bina ayat to illustrate the meaning of a word, but you didn’t know the word, so you wrote something like “Ah Beng asked the teacher, ‘What does bobrok mean?'” and you were pretty pleased with yourself, but the teacher gave you 0 marks for it.)

Variants are “splutter” (“You are not mad I hope.” “Splutter, my Lady, but I am.”) and “splutter and vons” (“Splutter and vons! you lousy tog, who do you call my master?”) This is a perversion of God’s blood.

I snore. “Used as a mild expletive. U.S.” USians, please tell me that you exclaim “I snore!” all the time.

By the great horn spoon. Also¬†U.S.” If you are American and neither use “I snore” nor “by the great horn spoon” in everyday conversation, don’t even tell me. I don’t wanna know!

By the hokey fiddle. Used in Joyce’s Ulysses. The other examples the OED gives are of variants “by hokey” or “by the hokey”, but I like “by the hokey fiddle” best.