Today’s book review of Della Galton’s writing guide is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. I reviewed Della’s companion book The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed back in March, and you can read that review here.
The Novel Writer’s Toolshed for Short Story Writers
Originally written as a series for Writers’ Forum Magazine, this snappy no nonsense guide has been expanded, amended and updated. Using examples from her own published work, Della Galton explains how to make the leap from writing short stories to writing a full-length novel.
Subjects covered include:
- How do you know if you have a big enough idea?
- How exactly does a short story character differ from a character in a novel?
- Will your plot go the distance?
- What should be on your first page?
Della Galton is a freelance writer and tutor. She is best known for her short stories, and sells in the region of 80 short stories a year to magazines both in the UK and abroad. She is a popular speaker at writing conventions around the UK and is also the agony aunt for Writers’ Forum. When she is not writing she enjoys walking her dogs in the beautiful Dorset countryside where she lives. Her hobby is repairing old cottages, which is lucky as hers is falling down. Find out more about Della, her books, and her speaking engagements at http://DellaGalton.co.uk.
Just like Della’s The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed, the book is made up of ‘shelves’. The introduction lays out clearly what’s ahead and certainly covers a vast array of essentials.
Della admits that she thought the leap from short story to novel writing would be a simple one; it’s just a different length, right? Wrong… and Della explains why (and shares with us that she wrote four novels before “one that was publishable”.
Shelf One covers ‘planning, plotting, pace and timescale’. I’m what’s called a ‘pantser’, where I get an idea and go with it. I’ve found this is fine with short stories but less so with novels, especially series, and even having written nine novels (most at first draft stage), Della’s advice is really useful.
At the end of each shelf is a ‘Summary of Differences’ so if you only have time to flick through this book (but why would you, it’s only 103 pages long… that’s in ‘real’ terms; I usually read the eBook version but only have this in paperback so it made a change for me) then reading these summaries would be a great place to start.
Shelf Two concentrates on setting, and this can be a character in itself. As Della points out, you have more room in a novel to make it thus.
Shelf Three is characters and viewpoints, and Della recommends compiling character charts, traits, family trees, descriptions and pictures of your characters. I cover some of these in most of my courses and it’s fun watching and listening to my ‘learners’ (students) creating characters using just pictures (from modern magazines, National Geographic etc) and the templates I give them. Few of my learners have heard of second person viewpoint which, being my favourite, I enjoy sharing with them. Della also suggests using 6”x4” index cards for listing each character. I have a couple of boxes of these cards (albeit the smaller versions) but found I preferred to use a Word table, but then as I prefer eBooks to paper books (I can hear some of you gasping at this!), that may not be surprising. I like having everything with me whether it be a laptop or Kindle.
Shelf Four turns to dialogue which I love writing but is hard to feel natural, and at least two members of my Wednesday night (intermediate) class struggle with it, and last week we wrote dialogues and monologues, and they preferred the latter by far. Sadly, for them, dialogue is vital in any story as it helps bring the characters to life, so I shall encourage them to persevere as like with anything, it’s just about practice.
Shelf Five takes us to the writing itself, ‘The First Page and Beyond’ and explains the components needed (hooks, character, place, time etc).
Shelf Six, under the heading of ‘Development, Author Voice and Endings’, is the next step: the middle and endings.
Shelf Seven deals with structure and flashback and as Della pointed out in Shelf Five, ‘it’s rare to go into flashback on the first page of a novel. Short stories often go swiftly into flashback on the first page’. As one of my learners said yesterday (a one-day short story course), there’s a lot to know about writing. This shelf also covers prologues and epilogues, and I’m not a fan of either.
Once the first draft is done, the hard work begins, and Shelf Eight covers this: ‘Editing and Revision’. Della provides us with three openings, two drafts and a final version and as she says, the latter is shorter, punchier and more to the point. I was sure that Della would have recommended a time gap between writing the first draft and editing and she does towards the end of this shelf; a day or two for short stories, a week or more for novels. I’d say that as a minimum. The idea is so that you’ve forgotten enough of it so that when you come back to it, you do so with ‘fresh’ eyes, almost as if you’re reading someone else’s work. That way you have a clearer perspective of what works and what doesn’t. Most writers will probably edit their own short stories, and certainly the first few drafts of a novel but they should definitely have a (professional) second opinion on the longer pieces, although I’m often sent shorter-length short stories for editing by authors who are more than happy to pay (the £5/1,000 words) to get it ‘right’, which is great. I’ve written over 400 short stories (mostly flash fiction) and while I’ve written the aforementioned nine novels, shorts will always be my first love and would ‘win’ if I had to choose between the two.
The last but one shelf, the ninth, talks about titles, synopses and blurbs, the essence of stories. I’m a big titles fan and one of my favourites to have come in to one of my writing group’s H.E. Bates Short Story Competition is ‘The Bus Driver Who Stopped And Then Didn’t’. When I’m judging, I look through the titles and pick out my favourites and read them last. Had this story been called ‘The Bus Driver’, it probably won’t have been saved but it was the last one (of that batch) and my favourite of that year. Sadly it didn’t make the top ten (I’m a first-round judge rather than final judge – coincidentally Della was our Head Judge last year) but the same author won the 2013 so I was thrilled for him. Writing synopses (the whole story in a page or two, including the ending) and blurb (100 words max enticement excluding the ending) is hard so I recommend writing them before you start the story / novel. It may help with the structure of it.
That’s actually easy compared with finding, and securing, an agent or publisher. Della has / had both so she’s best placed (I’ve never had an agent although had two publishers want my chick lit novel, The Serial Dater’s Shopping List, I decided to self-publish) to give the advice she does.
The book concludes with a list of useful writing events and organisations before enticing us to some of Della’s other books as well as liking her Facebook page (www.facebook.com/dailydella), following her on Twitter (http://twitter.com/dellagalton), reviewing her books and the best way to help an author, tell a friend.
A great book for any handbag, Kindle, or laptop. Invaluable advice for writers of any genre or format. Quality over quantity.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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