There seems to be a strange obsession with writing novels. I’m not sure if that says more about the writers I know, or if that is true for the culture of writing today. This obsession is the overwhelmingly enthusiastic tune of, “Oh I have this great story! I’m going to write it! It’s going to be a novel! It’s going to make me a lot of money! I can be a professional writer!”
If I may be a voice of reason: Well, no. Not quite.
The first challenge is: does the story have redeeming literary qualities or does it appeal to market tastes? Can it be told with new and exciting use of language?
The second challenge is: will you actually have the motivation to start and finish?
The third challenge, being, of course: Does it even make sense as a novel? (And of course, if it doesn’t make sense it won’t make money).
The last question isn’t is your writing coherent enough for someone to bear to read 50,000 words of it? Rather, the question is, Does your story have the staying power and qualities for that format? When people think about fiction they seem to think in terms of novel vs. short story. But the vehicles for storytelling are many: short stories, novellas, script, vignettes, micro-fiction, etc.
When people think they want to write a novel and become a successful writer, what they really want to do is become a recognized storyteller. Part of being a great storyteller is choosing a form that is suitable for the story. If that’s a vignette, so be it. If it’s a one-paragraph micro-fiction, so be it.
A writer who is consistently producing work may have the upper hand as compared to a writer who is trying to force a story to work in one particular form. After all, who is closer to publishing a book (all other things equal)? An author who forces a story and struggles to write a page of a novel a day, or an author who writes a one paragraph micro-fiction on the daily? Surely, the later.
Character, plot, theme, setting, mechanics, style, devices: they’re all important. But just as one wouldn’t force a Rembrandt into a frame that doesn’t fit, one must also not force a story into a form that won’t carry it.