Saturday, 9 November 2013

Guest Post - Sam Tonge - From Novels to Shorts and back again

Womagwriter Samantha Tonge's first novel is to be published tomorrow - Doubting Abbey. Here she talks about her writing journey from novels to short stories and back to novels, and shares with us what she's learned along the way.
                                   


Unlike many writers, I started off working on novels and then moved to short stories – most people do it the other way around. So, I have a clear opinion just how much short story writing has helped me with the longer form.

I started writing nearly nine years ago and regularly literary friends suggested I try my hand at a short story. However I found it impossible – even if I managed to think of a beginning, I could never come up with a middle and end, which seems very strange to me now! Then an online friend ran a short story competition for the release of her debut novel in 2010 and for the first time ever I managed to put together an entry. By then I’d written several novels.

Of course, looking back that very first story, it wasn’t the best, but it gave me the confidence to try other competitions. I was short-listed in a couple and in autumn 2010 joined an excellent short story group on the site WriteWords. Here, other commercial short story writers critiqued my work. I learnt a lot and in March 2011 made my first sale. Since then I’ve sold over 80.

So what is the difference writing novels now? I’ve written two more since I started writing shorts – one bagged me an agent. The next, Doubting Abbey, a publishing deal...

1 The first thing I learnt when writing shorts is that clarity is absolutely paramount. Sometimes in the critique group a member wouldn’t understand part of one of my stories, and it was because I’d fleshed out the story in my head, but not put all the detail on paper, wrongly assuming the reader knew as much as I did. Therefore my new motto became “if in doubt, spell it out” – whether that referred to putting in enough dialogue tags or reminding readers of fine plot details.

2 Individual chapters began to take real shape. Rather than looking at the whole novel as one long opus, I considered each chapter as a short story, with a beginning, middle and end. I’d already realized that one fault with my chapters was that I never tried to grab the reader at the start, instead just concentrating on the cliff-hanger as it finished.

3 As I sold more short stories, one editor told me I needed to put more emotion into my work and this really helped me with the novels -  feedback had frequently come back that my main characters weren’t lovable enough, and I think part of this was due to me not making the reader truly ‘feel’ their predicaments.

4 Overall my novel-writing has improved because thanks to creating short stories I’ve written from many different points of view, in various settings and eras. My experience has diversified.

5 I’ve become more laid back with my novels because now the emotional investment in them is smaller. During all those years when I wrote and subbed nothing but books, the rejections took their toll – after all, it was 6-12 months of work being sent back each time. But once I started to sell short stories my bruised writerly ego healed a little and meant that if rejections for the novel came back, hard as it was, I still had my short story successes to focus on. A happier novelist = a better one!

So for those of you who write novels, and are just starting out with shorts, don’t give up – it will benefit your writing in all areas. I wish I’d started years earlier.

Thanks Sam! Best of luck with the book launch. I adore the cover, and will be buying this novel as soon as it's released tomorrow! 

Doubting Abbey - the blurb
Swapping downstairs for upstairs… How hard can it be!? Look up the phrase ordinary girl and you’ll see a picture of me, Gemma Goodwin – I only look half-decent after applying the entire contents of my make-up bag, and my dating track-record includes a man who treated me to dinner…at a kebab shop. No joke! The only extraordinary thing about me is that I look EXACTLY like my BFF, Abbey Croxley. Oh, and that for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve agreed to swap identities and pretend be her to star in the TV show about her aristocratic family’s country estate, Million Dollar Mansion. So now it’s not just my tan I’m faking – it’s Kate Middleton style demure hemlines and lady-like manners too. And amongst the hundreds of fusty etiquette rules I’m trying to cram into my head, there are two I really must remember; 1) No-one can ever find out that I’m just Gemma, who’d be more at home in the servants quarters. And 2) There can be absolutely no flirting with Abbey’s dishy but buttoned-up cousin, Lord Edward. Aaargh, this is going to be harder than I thought…




15 comments:

Samantha Tonge said...

Aw, thanks, Kath, and thanks for having me on your lovely blog again.

Hope the post is useful to writers out there, thinking of writing shorts - go for it!

blogaboutwriting said...

Sam
Your novel sounds great but...aaagh! the plotline is very similar to an idea I've just had for my NaNo novel!! Big country house and heroine pretending to be someone else! (but not 'the lady of the manor'). How spooky!! I will be buying yours but I'd better not read it until I have finished mine - and I've now got to think of some new plotlines!! Good luck for your launch!

Samantha Tonge said...

LOL blogaboutwriting, it is SO annoying when that happens! I'm sure yours will end up quite different, though - best of luck with it. Thanks for the good wishes :)

Samantha Tonge said...

Ooh, it is you Helen! Best of luck with NaNo as well!

Penelope Alexander said...

Best wishes for publication day, Samantha! And thanks to both for this blog.
Penny Alexander

Kate said...

A very useful set of observations, Sam. Much of this chimes with my experience, especially number 5.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Brilliant post, Sam! You've stuck at writing, and are proof of that old adage that writing is 1% and 99% perspiration! (Fragrant perspiration, of course!)

Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks very much, Penelope.

Thanks, Kate - yes, each sale is a much-needed boost, isn't it?

Aw, thanks Geri! - Although at the moment i'm thinking it is 1% inspiration and 99% promotion!

Karen said...

Selling short stories is so good for writerly confidence, which is why I can't give them up!

I like the idea of approaching each chapter of a novel like a short story, that's really good advice.

Lots of luck with Doubting Abbey, it sounds great fun :o)

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks very much, Karen :) Yes, confidence is so easily sapped during the writing process, it is great to find something that boosts it!

TracyFells said...

Thanks for a great post Sam and Kath. Interesting to hear Sam started with novels first, as most short story writers start the other way round. Good luck with Doubting Abbey :)

Wendy's Writing said...

Interesting how you viewed each chapter as a short story. Look forward to your interview on my blog on Monday, Sam.

Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks, Tracy!

Thanks Wendy - yes, looking forward to being there.

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