Short Versus Long Fiction: Should Size Really Matter?
This topic is really big right now. Any writer or reader familiar with books coming out these days has probably noticed a huge trend in shorter fiction. Short stories, novellas, even episodic or chapter-length works are releasing all of the time on Amazon and other book sellers. And it appears that there are two schools of thought in response.
One is comprised of a group of writers and readers who see no issues with shorter fiction. In fact, they encourage it!
Writers enjoy publishing these works because they can write faster and move on to the next project on their ridiculously long to-do list. Not that writing such a story doesn't take a lot of plotting or research. Believe me, they still do. But, instead of cranking out a big novel every six months to a year, or longer, the turnaround time is a few weeks to, at most, a few months to completely polish one and have it ready for release. For some readers, they enjoy what the industry terms as an hour or "two hour fiction", a quick read on your Kindle while you're at the beach during your vacation, or when you finally get a moment alone at home. And I guess it depends on how fast you read too. LOL. A certain group of readers even enjoy the episodic, sort of Dickensian approach certain books are taking now.
There's nothing wrong with liking shorter fiction. Most writers who start out are practicing their skills by writing short stories. Even writing workshops or classes at universities usually will only expect a story turned in as the project because it's hard enough to write, but still deemed 'manageable' during the time that a semester runs. Only a Master's program would expect a full-length novel pitched as a dissertation. In some ways, shorter works are a tad easier to read or write because they just go faster.
Why, I bet you've even seen more multi-author anthologies coming out these days. Writers will submit short stories to publishers for such anthologies. It's a good way to launch new authors before they come out with a larger piece, like a novel. A lot of seasoned authors, as well, are participating in charity anthologies. I know a few writers who enjoy a little break between their full-length novels, so they tackle shorter works during that time. I have submitted for several anthologies as well, and for those I've seen anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 words, but sometimes up to 10,000 word stories accepted. It probably depends on how many authors are involved.
So, let's talk length. I have included a few good diagrams and tips below depicting the range of length on shorter and longer fiction. This is just to give you an idea of the industry standards. Shorter fiction exists as well. I have seen writing contests for one-sentence or one-paragraph fiction. That is called micro fiction. Flash fiction, which is different, is about a page long, and will sometimes be termed 'short-short'.
"That's weird, Marie."
Maybe. But the writer who can accomplish it is quite talented. I don't think I'm brave enough to try it. I'll stick with works that are a bit longer, at least for now.
As you can see, it's looking like they really can't decide what should be counted as a novel or a novella. And every publisher has different requirements.
There's nothing wrong with writing short fiction. Right?
Well, it's a matter of opinion. In fact, there's also a group of readers (and writers, for that matter) who never bother with shorter works. Stories or novellas aren't long enough, they say. And in some circles, they feel that only longer fiction is "true fiction".
Everyone has the right to their preferences in books – genres or lengths – but I can't agree with the former assessment. Length doesn't affect quality in any way. As long as the writer develops the characters, gives enough description of the setting and such, moves the plot along and offers a satisfying conclusion, should it really matter if the work in question is a short story or a novel? Apparently, for some people, it does matter. But that's completely fine. We're all entitled to our own opinions.
So, what's my approach? As a writer, I try not to fuss over length while I'm focused on a project. When I'm editing, I can worry all I want about length. But, during the composition of a work-in-progress, the story stands on its own. For me, it's all about the characters and what makes them tick. It's about the story, what drives me to tell it. Where is the tale set? How can I flesh out a character or even a scene a little better so that a reader can "see it" in his or her mind? What's next in the story? How do I keep the action going? And how do I wrap it all up in the end? These are subconscious, and conscious, questions that, I think, most writers try to tackle. However, during the writing process, it's not about length for me. Do I celebrate milestones with word count? "I made it to 25,000 words!" "I reached 50,000 words today!" Yes, of course, I celebrate it. Every writer likes to make progress.
But we shouldn't place a huge emphasis on word count or manuscript length during composition. Why? Because it can affect everything. I know one writer who can't finish more than one chapter because he's always asking, "But, how long should my book be?"
And that's a problem. It's possible that some writers need the aforementioned word count guidelines to give themselves a goal. However, it can be extremely limiting at the same time. My answer on how long it should be? The manuscript will be however long it is. If it ends up a short story, then so be it. A novella or novelette? Great! A full-length novel? Nothing wrong with that. It is what it is. By the time you're done writing and polishing, you have a finished product and, as a writer, you should be satisfied with the results. You have to love your story or book as much as your readers do. If you don't fall in love with your characters, if the story doesn't "compel" you, then you're in the wrong profession.
Enjoy writing your manuscript and, I assure you, you'll get more out of it. AND you'll worry less about book length. Be concerned about word count when you're ready to tackle editing and about to research possible publishers to submit the book to, not BEFORE you start a project or while you're writing.
Remember when I said it will ruin everything if you're concerned with length? It's true. Because if you listen to those naysayers who feel your story isn't "true fiction" due to its length, then you have spoiled the joy of writing for yourself. And that assumption? That's all it is, just a belief, not fact. Don't let one opinion discourage you from writing. You can see more about this and other issues in my article, "Don't Limit Yourself", also on the Writing in the Modern Age blog, and you can learn about how to cope with such adverse opinions in my guest post on Penny Estelle's blog. It is titled "Fighting the Naysayers".
There are plenty of readers who just LOVE short fiction. Just out of curiosity, let's count some of the famous authors who became known by their shorter works: Aldous Huxley, Anton Chekhov, Dr. Seuss, Elizabeth Gaskell, Honoré de Balzac, Herman Melville, J.D. Salinger, Jack London, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad, Joyce Carol Oates, Jules Verne, Louisa May Alcott, Roald Dahl, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Washington Irving, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Oscar Wilde, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens and so many more! Obviously, the word count snobs never thought of that one, did they? LOL. And it should be about what's inside the book, anyway.
In the end, does book length really matter? Not really. The point is that you write your story or novel to the best of your ability, then you sit back and are proud of your work. And what is the second goal of writing? To reach readers who appreciate our stories, who 'see' our characters the way they were meant to be seen, of course. If in the process, you give someone a wonderful experience for an hour, two hours, a day or however long it takes to read the book, then I'd say you've done your job as a writer.
So, get out there, pick up a pen and your favorite journal, or set up your laptop, and start writing! After all, who's stopping you? No one. Just you, and I hope by the time you've read this article, you won't be stopping yourself either. Write that book to wherever it takes you. You won't be disappointed by the experience. I hope I've helped to shed some light on the question 'does size matter in books?'.
Have a great week, everyone. And, as always, happy reading :)
(Sources: Wikipedia, Writing-World.com, http://bit.ly/1MbdnSz, Better Storytelling,The Famous People.com, Ranker, Classic Shorts, Listverse)