epigraphs – Parvus Press

Make Your Job Harder


A close-up of a grouping of clover.

Happy Monday, Parvus People, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those of you celebrating this week. Being in the storytelling business, we’re big fans of the blarney.

Before we get into submission lessons, if you haven’t seen it already, you should check this week’s Blog Post of our compatriot and Consulting Editor, John Adamus. John talks about showing vs. telling (Something that you’re probably reading about by now) but he does it with stripper metaphors:  John’s Blog. I know you folks are tired of seeing “show vs. tell”, but it’s a skill that is still underdeveloped in a lot of the submissions we receive.

Our focus this week, fair friends, is going to be on how to make your job as a novelist harder. It appears to be a topic that many of you are interested in! So, without any further delay, let’s dig in.

The easiest way to make your job harder is to decide that it’s not enough to JUST be a novelist. You should also be a poet, or lyricist, or short story writer. It is common in fantasy novels (and marginally less so in sci-fi) to include an epigraph at the opening of a chapter. This is sometimes a quote from some fictional wise man in your universe, recalling a quote from a major character in an early chapter (A technique we love when used well), or even a bit of poetry.

I implore you, dear writer. If you are not a poet, do not include poetry in your novel. Most novel readers do not read poetry. Most novelists do not write poetry. When a person who Is not accustomed to interpreting poetry reads less-than-stellar poetry, it’s a disaster for both reader and writer alike.

If you must include poems in your novel, find a poet and ask them to write them for you. The same goes for songs. Find a songwriter, give them the rough sketch of your idea, and trust them to write the lyrics for you.

But, should you want to make your job harder, feel free to try to learn to write effective poetry while you are working your way through a 100,000 word manuscript.

What about short stories? The skills are more closely related; so what’s so bad about including a short story in your novel? Again, it’s about reader expectations. A reader picking up a novel is not expecting to find short stories peppered throughout. If they did, they’d pick up a collection of short stories.

Novels are full of side stories, vignettes, flashbacks, etc. that are mostly self-contained bubbles of story hanging off the main host, but they are not entirely self-contained. They must attach to the main story, either by way of a character weaving the telling of the story into the main through line of their arc, by ending without fully resolving their small plot (because the resolution of said plot is part of the larger story arc), or by some other means.

A short story is a fully self-contained tale with a beginning, middle, and end. If you absolutely must include something of this nature into your novel for reasons that don’t immediately leap to mind, have a character deliver it to us in a first person narrative. Have them relate the events that occurred to them. In this way, at least, you are weaving the short story into the larger narrative.

Or, you can choose to make your job as a novelist impossible by peppering your novel with short stories. Not only will you give your reader a jarring experience and break the spell of the narrative, but you will have the joy of forcing yourself to excel in two very different writing styles just to be considered adequate overall.

If you’re writing a novel, friends, just write a novel. Don’t compound the monumentally difficult task in front of you by attempting to master multiple different styles of writing and story composition in the same work. Give me a complex narrative full of foreshadowing, mirroring, allegory, callbacks and rich characterization. Isn’t that enough of a challenge for you?