Welcome to Part 11 of my Virtual Balticon panel writeup. This is my final post from my notes.
The panel description was as follows: What is the right length for your story idea? How does outlining, submitting, revising, and other aspects of the writing craft change with story length? How do you go about rewriting a story for a drastically different word count? Panelists will discuss various techniques they have used and the pros and cons of each.
The panelists were: Don Sakers (as moderator), Monica Louzon, Karen Osborne, Sarah Pinsker, and Margaret Riley.
The size of a story is often dictated by the scope of the idea that spawned it. While some experienced writers can tell from the shape of the concept how long their story will be, it’s often a case of trial and error and years.
Why Write Short Stories?
Writing short stories is the art of writing less. It lets you have fun and explore new ideas. Novels are a commitment, you have to be sure you’re in it for the long haul.
Typically, your short story is going to follow one major thread or concept, within a short period of time, and with minimal characters. Short stories are very zoomed in.
In short stories, you don’t put in huge bits of backstory, although, as always, you can write it for yourself and cut it.
If you keep getting your short stories rejected — it may be time to follow panelist Monica Louzon’s lead and do some research. Look at the anthologies in your genre that are currently selling, then read until you find something that resonates. Then, reread and study those stories — examine where they start, where they end, and their pacing. Or contemplate how you would change things.
Why Write Novellas?
Novellas can zoom out a little, cover more story, more ground. You can concentrate on 1-2 relationships in a novella.
Novellas can cover two or three plot threads, an additional character or two, and a longer time period than the typical short story. But, their scope isn’t quite enough for a full novel. This doesn’t make them lesser in any way. Readers can tell if you’ve padded out your novel for word count, and cutting a true novella down to a short story robs it of much of its plot and heart.
While some people use novellas to write serials, you have to be sure you won’t want to edit earlier episodes to set up later episodes better. It depends on your level of planning and how you deal with plot holes.
If you do write serials — you’ll need spreadsheets and records for every character.
If you find yourself writing too much about a minor character, they might should be the main character. Try switching them.
Why Write Novels?
Novels are more forgiving for description with far more room for character growth and world-building. Novels can carry complex plots, concepts, and time periods that could barely be touched in a novella or short story.
Although, many writers do try to pace their chapters like a series of connected short stories — this works for many writing styles.
Which Do I Have?
If you’re not sure which you have, you can try outlining your story and plot and see how far you get. Under 10 scenes? You’re looking at a short story. Under 20 scenes? Probably a novella. More than 30? We’re looking at novel territory, if these scenes are more than a paragraph or two.
If you’re against planning though? The only way to find out is to write it.
What do you prefer to write?
Is that the story length you prefer to read?
Have you ever been wrong about a story length and had to fix it?
Thanks for reading and I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips and writerly musings.
For the uninformed reader: Hugo Award, and SWFA standards are:
-7500 words – short story
7500 – 17,500 words – novelette
17,500 – 40k – novella
40k words up is still called a novel. 20 years ago, it still was (look at the size of most novels back then, and further back). Now – 75k-80k words is a minimum that most of the big publishers require.
Well yes. But I was covering the notes from the panel I attended, and I think it should be intuitive how those things scale up. 🙂
and from what I’ve heard, 75-80k is the minimum… for SF/F with their inherent world-building. For other genres, it depends. But that’s another blogpost.
Great post! I also think that a lot of authors tend to glorify novels, while it’s must easier to improve your writing with short stories. 👍
They’re two totally different animals. Pacing, what you can focus on, the level of world building.
For many writers, writing short is harder than writing long.
Improving your ability to write short stories will help your ability to pace chapters. Improving your ability to write novels will help flesh out the often sparse short stories.
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I’ve read more than once that the short story is the classic form of SF: there’s a problem, and how your hero solves it. It requires real attention to writing…. Trust me on this, I continually have trouble keeping my stories under 7500 words.
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I agree! The short story is a great way to learn how to keep your writing short and sweet. I still have trouble writing a short story, but each time I try, it gets a little easier, so keep going and you’ll figure it out!
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