On Linked Stories, Part II: Proceed with caution.

Remember back in the day — and by that I mean January 26, 2011 — when I promised to write a second blog post about linked stories?

Right. Well, I didn’t either, until the other day, when I was thinking writing linked stories is so much harder than it looks, and I was reminded that I had written an “On Linked Stories Part I” blog post in which — you guessed it! — I promised to consider why writing linked stories is so much harder than it looks.

Well, here I am, six months later, and the nature of the beast (yes, beast!) is still mysterious to me. I have written 2 linked stories, along with 5 or 6 halves of other stories, all connected to the first two. By connected I mean, the characters are the same, though the point of view differs in each piece of writing. For example in the two complete stories, one is from the perspective of the mother, and one is from the point of view of the daughter. In two of the incomplete pieces, the POV is that of the grandmother. In most cases, the setting is the same, though sometimes the time period is different, depending on who’s narrating.

My intentions in writing this way, rather than, say, writing a straight-up novel:

– Short stories take less time, and have an end. I am a busy mom with a part-time job and lots of other things going on. I have trouble focusing on a longer work because I forget what the heck I am writing towards.

-Because short stories end, they can be sent out even while the longer collection of linked pieces is still underway. If some of these stories were to get published, that would be a good selling point for the book in its entirety, when that time comes. See? Practical.

You might remember (or not, since it was 6 months ago) that my previous post quoted a writer on The Millions who saw these points as benefits to the linked-story genre. It’s a practical way of producing a book, is what she seemed to be saying, and how I saw it, too. She also added that each story allowed her to hone her craft in a way that writing a novel did not.

Here’s the problem. In order to write an entire collection of stories that are interconnected, YOU NEED TO KNOW WHAT THE OVERARCHING STORY IS. If you don’t, you’re writing 10 separate short stories that happen to involve the same characters, setting, and so on, but don’t actually link in any meaningful way. You’re writing a collection of short stories.

In the end, though it sounds reasonable, practical and, let’s face it, pretty neat, to write a linked-story collection piece by piece and story by story … proceed with caution. In my opinion, you’re still writing a novel.

And by you, I mean me. I’m writing a novel. It is possible, in fact, that writing the novel as separate-but-linked stories has actually hurt my ability to construct the plot that connects the stories to make an entire book. Because I can skip from story to story I can, for example, allow myself to stop the action when it gets too hard. I can end the story I’m working on and pick up with a different one instead. And, because I am focusing on so many shorter narratives, I have neglected the umbrella narrative — that is, what is the storyline that holds all of these pieces together?

I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from writing a linked story collection. I love, love, love to read them. They are often beautiful in tone and writing style in ways that novels cannot always afford to be. The breaks in the narrative can be just as, if not more, poignant than a continuous narrative. All I’m saying is, do not allow yourself to be fooled.

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3 thoughts on “On Linked Stories, Part II: Proceed with caution.

  1. Great points. I admire the linked-short-story form, but yeah, I’m not sure I’m ready to attempt it myself. (Someday, I think!) I’ve heard Olive Kittridge is pretty good, though. Have you read that?

    What about loosely linked short stories? Like Jhumpa Lahiri’s style? They all have a common thread/theme (unlike MANY collections I have read) but not be fully linked. That might be a good compromise.

    • Olive Kitteridge is beautifully done and amazingly written. I heard that it took the author something like 10 years to finish it! Yes, you’re right — loosely linked might be a better way to go. I’m still pondering what I am doing with all of my material, to be honest.

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