Friday, April 01, 2011

The Long and Short of It (guest post by Tansy Rayner Roberts)

For the launch post of Aussie Author Month, I am pleased to present a guest post from Tansy Rayner Roberts. In my last post, I mentioned that I am focusing on short stories, and Tansy is the author of one of the stories that I read and thoroughly enjoyed (Relentless Adaptations from the Sprawl anthology). When I heard that she was looking for hosts for her Mighty Slapdash Blog Tour, I volunteered straight away, and my suggested topic - shorts stories v novels!

The Long and Short of It

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to run late sometime if you’re just going around the corner, than if you’re travelling somewhere at a greater distance? The further away you are when you start, the more opportunity you have to hurry up... but if it’s five minutes away, you’re already late.

That’s pretty much how I feel about short stories.

A novel is a long, glorious stretch of road, and I don’t have to worry about what’s behind the curve of that bend not yet. I have time to pay attention to the scenery and my travelling companions, and my brain doesn’t have to fling me all the awesome ideas and snappy bits of dialogue straight away. It can burble away in the background, hurling me tools and stray bits of string (to hold the cart together, have I overworked this metaphor yet?) as and when needed.

A short story, on the other hand, hardly has time to get started before I’m panicking about word count, and do I have enough story yet, or is there too much story, and there’s a brick wall hurtling right at my face and OMG IT’S A NOVELLA, PULL UP, PULL UP...

With a short story, there is nowhere to hide.

In case it’s not immediately obvious, I am a touch more intimidated by the short story form than I am by novels. I don’t claim to have mastered either, but I came to an understanding with novels far earlier than shorts, probably because I read more of them! I feel like I have only started hitting my stride with shorts in the last few years, which coincides with my participation in the Not If You Were The Last Short Story on Earth project, which involved me reading and critically evaluating huge quantities of world class short stories.

I like the opportunity to experiment and be brave that short stories affords me, even if my initial reaction is often to hide behind the sofa instead. I also love being forced to pare every indulgence out of my writing, and that does make me look at novel writing with a touch more discipline. Also there’s the deliciousness of getting something finished in a limited time frame, even if short stories always take me longer than I think they will.

Ultimately, though, my heart belongs to novels: fun though it is to capture a character voice or moment in a small and elegant box, I much prefer having the space and leisure to get to know that character, and their world. Luckily, I don’t actually have to choose between the two writing forms, though of course I do: I spend a fraction of my writing time on short stories and tend only to write one when I am actively being begged for a contribution (and sometimes not even then) because my latest novel is calling loudly to me.

It’s calling to me right now... and you know what? It used to be a short story.


Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of Power and Majesty (Creature Court Book One) and The Shattered City (Creature Court Book Two, April 2011) with Reign of Beasts (Creature Court Book Three, coming in November 2011) hot on its tail. Her short story collection Love and Romanpunk will be published as part of the Twelfth Planet Press “Twelve Planets” series in May.

This post is brought to you as part of Tansy’s Mighty Slapdash Blog Tour, and comes with a cookie fragment of new release The Shattered City:

She became slowly aware that everything hurt, her spine and ribs and skull, as if someone had been pounding her bones with a mallet. Somewhere along the way, she had lost her dress. They were all looking at her, the Lords and Court, hovering in an uneven circle around her, in their naked ‘people’ bodies. They were - not awed, exactly, but impressed with her. Some of them were wounded, their skin scratched and punctured in places by those spikes of ice. Livilla licked a smear of blood from a scrape on the back of her hand, gazing thoughtfully at Velody.

Too late, Velody remembered her duties, to honour the Creature Court for their efforts. “You fought well,” she said, finding her voice. Her throat ached as if she had been coughing up her lungs for hours.

“I’m not entirely sure we needed to,” said Poet.


  1. I loved this post, and I loved being able to see things from the perceptive of an author of the short story, instead of my limited perspective as a reader. The comment about "Pull up" was also very funny. Thanks for sharing this with us. It's inspired me to pick up one of my dusty tomes of short stories and give it a try!

  2. Thanks for posting this as Tansy is a new author to me and I liked the humor that came across in this post. Will def have to look into her books.

    In terms of the post topic I've never really been a fan of the short story. There just never seems to be enough in the pages for me and I always want more of the story. Generally the only exception to this is when the short story involves characters from a series that I already love.