Sunday, October 4, 2009

Long vs Short

I used to know what I wanted to do. I wanted to write books. With a hundred thousand words to play with, I had room to explore characters' personalities, time to develop sub-plots, bumps and twists – all those things I found so fascinating in the books I enjoyed. I would write books.

But a lot of the advice I got from people was that I needed to get some short stories published first, to give me some 'credit' in the industry. That would be a challenge. First of all, how short was short? I found the 'official' short story length was between 2,000 and 10,000 words. Gak. Obviously, there would be no room for sub-plots, and personalities would need to be hinted at, rather than explored. Definitely a challenge, to one who was used to 'running off at the keyboard'.

It took some work to get my mind wrapped around telling a story in less than 10K. Once I started to get the hang of it, I found that mine tended to hover right around 5 to 6K words. I discovered how to choose verbs, adjectives and adverbs to reveal my characters' personalities. This helped me write my novels more tightly, too. The sprawling first novel that had finally ended at 150,000 words had already been trimmed down to 120,000 words, but with my newly-learned habit of frugality, I got it down to 90,000 words. So that was a side benefit noone had told me about.

Then somebody told me about flash fiction, where the entire story is 1000 words or less. That was where things were at, they told me. Was I up for the challenge? The prospect was daunting. There could be no wasted words. In fact, it seemed to me, each word would need to do the work of at least three words. This was completely beyond my ability, I thought. I have tried. I've written two pieces of flash, actually, each 500 words. Whether or not they are any good, I can't tell, because it seems like I'm just getting started reading them, and they end. It's not a size I'm comfortable with. Yet. Maybe I could get used to it.

Like most writers, I have a lot of stories in my head, waiting to get written. How do I know how long to make them? I can't say, this will be a 7,000 word story, or this is an 85,000 word novel. I can only determine that there is enough complexity to the plot and sub-plots to make it a novel. If I don't have that, I'd better make it a short story.

I still enjoy writing novels more than shorts. See ya next week. Trudy

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