Friday, March 23, 2012

Two Trains of Thought

Yesterday, Patti Abbott blogged about how readers and writers see the relationship between the novel and the short story:

In the 2011 O'Henry Awards, A.M. Homes compares novels to short stories by using the metaphor of a train. "The novel is a cross-country trip; one boards leisurely in D.C. and watches the landscape unfold as the train passes through Maryland, Ohio, Illinois as one prepares to disembark in L.A.'s Union Station. The short story is like hopping on that same train already in motion in Chicago and riding it into Albuquerque with no time to waste."

Is this a good metaphor for you?

I commented:

Though short stories are short, I would argue that they should be read more slowly, more attentively than novels. Frenetic action is only one possible virtue of short stories. A better one is that each word, phrase, sentence in a short story is more powerful than any one word, phrase, or sentence in a novel.

I would argue that it's easier to get a head of steam reading a novel such that you don't notice every sentence or paragraph. This is why writers say novels are more forgiving than short stories. I sometimes feel sorry that novelists have to write entire books when, depending on a section's overall pace, readers may just breeze through it.

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