Tag Archives: story lengths

Story Length, again

I know I've written about this before, but it's been over a year. I spent a large part of my morning trying to knock one big item off my list. I'd like to finish the retro science fiction story.

I added thousands of words to this thing, and it still isn't finished. I'm a believer in making things as long as they need to be. Many of the rules regarding preferred story lengths went out the window with the arrival of the ebook.

The rules as I understand them are:

  • Micro-fiction = under 1000 words
  • Short story = 1000 to 10,000 words
  • Novella = 10,000 to 30,000 words
  • Novel = over 30,000, but preferred over 80,000 words.

(That leaves a grey area between 30,000 and 80,000 words. Is it a maxi-novella or a mini-novel?)

Does any of this matter these days? We still need to put a label on our work so shoppers know what we're selling. If I ask $3.99 for a piece of micro-fiction the shopper might be disappointed, even if it's really good.

I am firmly convinced that readers are moving toward shorter lengths. It isn't the price of the book, it's the time involved in reading it. I've even noticed it when asking for volunteers. Experimental Notebook got more volunteers than The Playground. Notebook is a book of micros and short stories, Playground is a novel.

So here I am with the retro science fiction story at 8600 words. I don't know if I can bring it in under 10,000. I made a mistake by having a character outline the big plan, then they execute the big plan. In a short story, outlining it should be deleted. In a novel, the big plan should fall apart and have to be modified on the fly. I will adjust accordingly. First I need to finish the damned thing. Edit later.

I already have the pregame shows on. I sliced up some cheese to have with salami and crackers, and ate a tin of smoked oysters along with the rest. I probably won't eat again today, but may have a brown ale nightcap after the game. Better for my digestion to eat early.

I never checked anything off the list, and I feel terrible. I really tried to finish this short story. I know I could if it weren't Super Bowl Sunday. I looked back at my list, and there is a reminder to have some fun along the way. I'm going to honor that part and watch the big game.

I posted another clever graphic and a plea on Twitter to market Notebook. Facebook vexes me. I went ahead and posted about Lisa's paper dolls, and it was barely noticed. I suppose I need more likes or friends, then maybe it will get more attention. I reserve the right to post about it again at a later date. Maybe they would be better received in one of the groups. I remain open to suggestions on the Facebook front.

I succeeded at messing with Facebook, and updating my blog a few more times. Those were on the list. Everything else still needs work, and I'm chocking this day up as a loser productively. It isn't the number of words, there were lots of words, it's the lack of completion.

Questions for you: Should I even care about titles for story lengths? Should I croak the retro science fiction story as part of another Experimental Notebook, because it's too long? Would it be better used as a permanently free novella? Would you skip the Super Bowl to work on your checklist if your team wasn't in it? (Keep in mind that I'm completely alone today, and have no distractions.) Should I bag the whole process and get back to my beta reading?



Filed under Writing

Does your story need more, or less?

Charles Yallowitz has a great post today. His topic is extremely powerful characters and their use of restraint. I recommend reading it for his topic, and the comments that went along with it. Here's the link, Legends of Windemere.

Charles' post got me thinking about the wonderful character struggle this creates. Then I started relating it to my own recent efforts. This post was inspired by Charles, but is going to be a different topic.

Most of you know that I've been writing short stories. Last Spring, I worked on a novel and some short stories at the same time. Charles' wonderful layers will enhance a novel, and in his case a whole series.

A novel needs this kind of conflict. The main character struggles with more than just defeating evil. Things gnaw at his soul. When the only power you have is a nuclear bomb, it's challenging to deal with a termite invasion. This makes for some good internal tension.

I'm free writing this tonight, but this must be my point: novels need more, and we're not talking about more words. They needs more story.

I fell in love with short stories years ago, but they almost disappeared. Today, they're coming back in a big way. They usually involve someone with a problem either overcoming it or succumbing to it – in a hurry.

I've made this mistake myself, so I get to talk about it. (I've read a few too.) We get a great idea, and find out our story is concluding at about 50,000 words. The first thought, after blind panic, is to add more words. This is how we get novels that describe every course of a drawn out meal. It's how we get tons of description. It's how we make our story boring.

Charles beefs up his characters. (Never a bad idea.) His character has an internal problem. He has to worry that he's not keeping up with his companions, or he's risking them when he could exercise more power. This adds more than words to a story.

Novels need a bit more complication. Maybe you need more than one hurdle to overcome. Maybe there is a competing hero, but he isn't a bad guy.

I've never had a series length idea. That doesn't mean I can't learn from a series type writer. What is needed is more story. Short stories might be about trimming to the essentials, or sticking to one plot element. Longer works need more plot elements, possibly more characters, and more complications. They don't need another dessert course after supper.

Story lengths are just extra tools in the writer's toolbox. Self publishing made them viable tools once more. If your story won't carry a whole novel, maybe it makes a better novella. If you really want a novel, add more story, not more fluff. If you have a cool idea that just won't come together, try it as a short story or even a micro fiction. In today's world you might find a market for almost anything.

I think Jim Butcher is a master of this. His Dresden Files involve Harry solving multiple disasters. The basic idea is: What's better than one major villain? Two major villains. (Plus a pending natural disaster, and an angry love interest.)

The last Dresden novel I read involved no less than four pending disasters. In some cases winning in one corner involved failing in another. Then, of course, there are always a few things screwed up in Harry's personal life. Still, he manages to bring about some measure of success.

I'm free writing this tonight, so I'm rambling a bit. If you work with me a little, there are some points.

  • Story lengths are not detriments. They are tools to use when we need them.
  • Longer works need more story. This isn't about extra characters or more situations. It is about more complications, emotions, and twists.

What do you guys think? Am I on to something here, or am I off my rocker? Maybe it's both and my Life story makes a better novel.


Filed under Writing