Writer’s Notes: Short vs. Long

I’d tell you to get your mind out of the gutter, but I like the company.

I’m thinking
about story length this week and when to admit that the novel you
thought you were writing is really a novella, or even a short story. If
you write short like I do, it happens more often than you’d think.
Honestly, 50,000 words (minimum for a short novel) is a *lot* to write
for me – because the plot has to keep moving that whole time, and it’s
hard to keep tension and conflict high with the sort of breakneck pace I
tend to like in romantic suspense.

This week though, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that The Minister’s Maid,
which is supposed to be the second novel in my Fantasy Ranch series,
may end up being more of a novella unless I find a few spots that can
logically be stretched out in the revision stage. Considering I won’t
just add subplots or description to a story just for the heck of it,
that’s unlikely, although there are a few scenes missing that I’ll add
before I even start revising (I realized after I wrote past them that
they needed to be there). 
Ironically, while I
try to keep my erotic romances to 8-10,000 words, the majority of them
end up stretching to 15,000 words or so…because it takes that many
words to realistically build the relationship. When you consider that,
if I spent 15,000 words building a relationship in a romantic suspense
novel, that would leave 35,000 words left for the “suspense” (read:
action/adventure) part in a 50k word novel. Which actually might be
about right, now that I think about it…
We’ll
pause while true right-brain dominants everywhere cringe as I reduce my
story structure down to a simple math formula…sorry folks – it’s the
price I pay for not having a dominant side of the brain myself.
Regardless,
I’m not a fan of stretching a story just to reach a certain word count.
And thankfully, we don’t have to these days. Sure, traditional
publishers still require specific word counts for their own
business-related reasons, but with all the other options we have for
publishing, it’s not necessary to adhere to that. And I think that’s a
very good thing. I’ve often picked up a book only to think after reading
it that it could have been cut by half or more and been a better story.
Honestly, I never notice how long a story is *unless* it’s either too
long, or too short. And in those cases, it’s the *story* that was either
stretched or cut that bothers me, not the actual word count.
I
hear a lot of authors complaining about reviews that say their book was
too short or too long. In my opinion, that means something about the
story left the reader unsatisfied – the author didn’t do the job well
enough (and lest you think I’m picking on other authors only, I would
think the same thing of my own writing if I got a review like that – and
I’m sure I will eventually). If a story satisfies the reader properly,
the length simply won’t matter.
The trick
is knowing when you’ve got just enough story to be satisfying without
boring the reader with extraneous “stuff”. To a certain extent, this
will vary from reader to reader, but I think there’s a general average
for every story that will have fairly wide appeal. And I think authors
have to sort of feel their way through it – it’s not something that can
be reduced to a mathematical problem, but rather an instinct that needs
to be developed as we keep writing.

What say
you, dear readers? Do you notice the length of a story if it’s
satisfying to you? Do you pick and choose what to buy based on length
(even I do that – I’m not a fan of anything over 80k or so)? If you’re a
writer, what’s your comfortable writing range as far as length goes?


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2 comments on “Writer’s Notes: Short vs. Long

  1. anne gallagher

    I’ve gotten reviews like that, “It’s too short, I wanted it longer.” Which I guess is a semi-compliment, they wanted to get to know the characters better.

    I’ve tried to keep my novels down to 85k, that seems right to me. My short stories range anywhere from 3k – 26k. Depends on what needs to happen in them.

    As long as the story begins, has a middle, and ends on the right note, I really don’t care about length.

  2. Jamie D.

    Indeed – a story should be as long as it needs to be, right?

    I’ve read a lot of articles saying that e-reading is making shorter stories popular again, mainly because people are busy, and they like their stories in chunks, rather than long, drawn out afternoons. Which is both good and bad, methinks – it’s important to take time to sit down and really savor some books, but I know I don’t often have the time or patience any longer. Interesting though, in any case…and good for short writers…