Writing Notes: Writing Short

I’ve written about this topic before in a different vein (along with some tangential ranting), but it’s on my mind these days. Once I start writing, I’m pretty much following my characters around, trying to capture their experiences and emotions on the page. And sometimes I get impatient with them, because the story takes so much longer than I wanted it to. I want to yell at them, “When will it end? Can we wrap this up, please?”

It doesn’t work, by the way. Yelling at my characters, I mean. Some authors appear to have “fourth wall” privileges wherein they can converse with their characters – I don’t. The minute I start trying to do that, having to listen to them (ie, write them) in the first person, I cease hearing *their* personality, and my own starts to creep in. I need distance in order to keep myself separate from them, to keep my head out of theirs.

But I digress, yet again. What were we talking about? Right. Finding the end.

So my “natural writing length”, if I just write without worrying about how long the story will be, is somewhere around 30-50k words for a complete story. I don’t know why or how this happens…it’s not something I have to think about, it just happens. If I want to write longer or shorter, I have to find ways to either add material (which I very rarely do), or cut things down (which I do often, usually right in the first draft…I’ve been known to delete entire scenes that just didn’t work, right after I wrote them). At least once a week I’ll write a couple hundred words, realize that it doesn’t make any sense for the story to go that way, delete it and start all over.

This year, I’m writing novelettes (stories over 5k, and under 20k) in erotica, and with any luck a couple thrillers too. My goal is 10k words each (and the first two were under). Now I can’t write long to save my life – not only do I have to add an insane amount of material, but I get bored with the story after awhile (don’t look at me like that…I get bored easily and I have ideas coming out my ears for new stories). But I’m really enjoying the challenge to write short – or I was, until my most recent story, which recently surpassed 13k words. Dang it.

The whole point of writing short for me is to…well, write short. To pack as much story into a small space as humanly possible. And overshooting my word count as I have means that I failed somewhere…in this case, I didn’t narrow the original storyline down far enough before I started writing, and I set the pace too slow for 10k words. These characters fascinated me and I wanted to slow down and watch them more closely (sounds like animals in a zoo, doesn’t it? And they are, sort of…). It’s too late to turn back now – the story won’t work if I cut any of it, because it’s a natural progression and has a very obvious pace that needs to be maintained.

In any case, I doubt readers will complain at getting more story, so it’s not a tragedy or anything…just a personal failure as far as my short story challenge goes. Thankfully, I’m under no publisher pressure to meet or exceed a specific word count either (that would drive me nuts, I think – the story needs what it needs).

Still, I really want to learn to comfortably write within that 10k range. I think it’s the perfect size story for a lunch break or before-bed read, and it challenges me to condense the story to its core. I honestly think that writing short is one of the most challenging and rewarding exercises a writer can do, and I think it helps with longer forms as well.

After novelettes, I want to master flash fiction (1k words or less).

So I’ll finish this contrary novelette, and then do my best to keep the next story within bounds. A simple goal, and solid resolution seem to be key, so I’ll choose my plot very carefully.

Do you naturally write short or long? When is the last time you tried writing something out of your own comfort zone as far as length goes?

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2 comments on “Writing Notes: Writing Short

  1. Brooklyn Ann

    Lol, I seem to have the same problem. I’m proud of myself that I’ve managed to get 2 short stories completed and I’ve finally able to get my novels up to 80K 🙂 It’s still quite a challenge, though.,

  2. Davin

    I know it was a digression, but the second paragraph of your post was very interesting. You should expand on that sometime. And I’m glad you’re letting this story go a little longer. You’re trying to learn to write shorter, but that doesn’t mean you have to master it right away.

    I naturally write short. I consider myself a minimalist. So, I’m usually working to flesh things out. The more I write, the longer my stories seem to get, though.