Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

The long and the short of fiction writing

There are only a handful of authors who successfully make the transition from short fiction to novels and back.

It is the rare writer who can make the transition from short stories to novels and back. For most, it would be the literary equivalent of speaking Arabic and Inuit. Few master both. The Irish writer William Trevor (Cheating at Canasta is his latest story collection); Lorrie Moore, the American writer who's just published her first novel in 11 years (A Gate at the Stairs); and the Indian-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri (Unaccustomed Earth is her latest story collection and The Namesake her first novel) are among those few.

Pre-eminent among masters of the short story is the Canadian writer Alice Munro, who only wrote one novel, Lives of Girls and Women, though that is really a collection of stories. At the age of 78, she released Too Much Happiness last year, her 13th collection of stories. Raymond Carver, who perhaps more than any writer in the past 30 years was responsible for the rebirth of the short story as a popular form in North American literature, never published a novel. He did, however, publish poetry, particularly towards the end of his life. To the Waterfall was his farewell.

Adam Haslett, whose first two books are a collection of stories and a novel, said that he finds that the short story "exists somewhere between poetry and the novel". Perhaps this is because the compactness of the form means every word must count, though it is sometimes said an entire novel is contained in the best short story. The author who glided easiest among the genres was John Updike: 20 novels, a dozen story collections (his last, My Father's Tears and Other Stories, was published in 2009, the year he died), essays, a memoir and criticism and eight books of poetry. It seemed his ability to write in multiple forms was powered by an inner necessity. Updike served his art by answering whichever muse called.

* Denise Roig

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Hajer Almosleh, the winner of the last year's short story competition, at her home in Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

Get involved with The National’s short-story competition

Writers have two weeks to craft a winning submission, under the title and theme "The Turning Point".

 It is believed that the desert-like planet of Tatooine is being recreated for Star Wars: Episode VII. Could that be where filming in the UAE comes in? Courtesy Lucasfilms

Could the force be with us? The search for Star Wars truth

On the hunt for the Star Wars: Episode VII set, which a growing number of people are sure is in Abu Dhabi, but no one can seem to find.

 With an estimated 18,000 comic and film fans having already paid a visit to this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con, organisers are hopeful they will have surpassed last year total, of 21,000, by its close. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai's World Trade Center was awash with people visiting this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. Here's some of our best pictures.

 Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, presents Quincy Jones with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award as the Admaf founder Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo applauds. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

A candid talk with Quincy Jones about the UAE, Lil Wayne and the Abu Dhabi Festival award

The Abu Dhabi Festival honoree Quincy Jones discusses his legendary career as a music producer, the return of Dubai Music Week and why he can’t handle the rapper Lil Wayne.

 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge arrive at Wellington Military Terminal on an RNZAF 757 from Sydney on April 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

In pictures: Will and Kate visit Australia and New Zealand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge are on a tour Down Under for three weeks.

 A protester gives a victory sign during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Street life: humanity’s future depends on ability to negotiate and sustain public space

Negotiating our ever more crowded cities and maintaining vibrant public spaces are among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National