1. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Does size matter?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Banzai, Nov 17, 2011.

    I was musing on this earlier this morning.

    I'm a short story writer, and when I first (nearly three years ago, Christ...) started seriously writing them, they measured out at about 5,000 words (widely accepted as the upper limit- or close to it- for publishing short stories). In the three years since, my writing style has transformed and broadened considerably, and now my stories are coming out at closer to 2-3k.

    Now, I think this is probably down to my personal preference. As well as writing them, I literally (not literally) devour short stories, and prefer ones of a few magazine pages in length, because I'm better able to read them in one sitting. It's not that I don't like longer stories, but I think that they should be like canapes, eaten in one go, not left in the fridge half-consumed to finish later.

    And I think this is feeding into my taste in novels. I don't write them much any more, but I still read them, and with those too I tend towards the shorter works. I'm a particular fan of *whispers* novellas.


    What does everyone else think? In terms of short stories or novels, writing and reading?
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'm an extremely slow reader, so I prefer short novels because I can finish them in less than a month (I foolishly bought a copy of Infinite Jest a few months ago, and its sat on my bookshelf being intimidating ever since), but with short stories, I don't really mind length. I guess it's nice to be able to finish one in one sitting, but I don't mind spending an hour or two to read a longer one. And in terms of quality, at least among the short stories I read (books, anthologies, not magazines) most authors tend to have an 8-10k word masterpiece surrounded by shorter and (usually) more experimental or less substantial stories.
     
  3. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm kind of versatile, I think. I haven't written a novel yet (the story I'm working on right now is, I think, going to be the first thing I manage to get to novel length), but I've also written short stories.
    I prefer reading novels, but I don't mind short stories either. John Connolly's short stories, for example, are amazingly well-written with sublime prose, but his novels absolutely suck.
     
  4. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    I am a fan of short stories.
    my attention span does not last very long so the story has to be short and to the point.
    *whispers* novellas?
    I am not familiar with that. have you written a *whisper* novella yet?
     
  5. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Novellas are somewhere between short stories and novels. The measurement will vary from publisher to publisher, but it's usually somewhere between 15,000 and 40,000 words. They're generally considered to be a lot more difficult to sell, since they fall between the cracks: too long for most short story venues, but too short for a novel publisher to want to take a gamble. Though I have seen a rise of the 99p novella on the Kindle store lately, so maybe that will change before too long.

    I haven't written one before myself, though I'm playing with the idea at the moment. I generally quite like reading them, because they combine the focus of short stories with the space for more plot that novels offer. A middle ground between the two.

    I hadn't really considered collections. In those, I agree, a mixture of lengths are common (and indeed, I think, preferable). If it's stuffed with stories all of a similar length, then it would feel a little stagnant. Better really to vary the length, pace, style, etc of the stories, to offer a broad range of the author's work.

    This is the thing. Short stories and novels are very different, and just because a writer can do one well, doesn't necessarily mean they can do the other. Sadly, there isn't really a great deal of money in short stories these days, so you rarely see authors sticking solely with short stories. Rather they cut their teeth on them, and then migrate to novels. Not a bad thing, by any means, I just feel a little sad that short stories are so under appreciated.
     
  6. Speedy
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    Speedy Contributing Member Contributor

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    More of a novel man myself. I prefer world building, intrigue and many, many unanswered questions that MAY be answered down the road. You can get all three in short stories ( 8-10k length ones). But unless they are very good at doing what they do, short stories usually fall a little short for me. That said, half of my favorite stories are shorts, but I do read a million times more novels. It also depends on the occasion. Slow, cold overcast days, give me a fat book thick with world building and intrigue and I’m as happy as a pig in… But if I’m on a train or plane, give me an anthology or a magazine filled with short stories any day. Mainly write novels myself, but wrote a few short stories for anthologies for a while but found it a little hard getting interested in something that I couldn’t build a world or religion on (Not that it can’t be done).Now, flash fiction I adore. Read so many absolutely fantastic pieces that fill my criteria.
     
  7. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like that Stephen King still does both. Especially since his work translates so well to screen.
    I don't write very very short stories, though. I need enough space to breathe. Most of my work I just come out of nowhere with, too. I don't really outline anything. I just start writing, and I make connections after I see that I've written something, and I figure out what needs to come in down the track.
     
  8. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I wonder if it depends on genre then? World building, etc, is a staple of sci-fi and fantasy, and I agree you can't really do much of that in a short story. SF short stories tend to focus on an idea or concept, spinning it out into a narrative, and I'm not really experienced enough with fantasy short fiction to know how they do it.

    But with something like horror, I generally think shorter is better. It relies on a wilful suspension of disbelief in order to actually create an atmosphere, which can collapse in on itself if overextended (I know it's film rather than literature, but the first two Paranormal Activity films are a classic example of this).

    Personally, I prefer King's short stories to his novels in a lot of cases. The man is a terror (pun intended) for waffling, and for taking pages to say what could have been done in a paragraph. In a short story, he has less scope to do that, so tends to be a little more focused. King writes terrific novellas for a similar reason.
     
  9. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I find his prose to be uninspired for the most part, but I get a good feeling whenever I finish one of his novels because he tells a damn good story, as far as I'm concerned. He writes well enough that you can visualise it, and he has a brilliant mind for stories. (debatable, sure, but let's not debate it)
    His short stories are good, too. I've still only read Everything's Eventual, but it was damn good, too.
     
  10. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am a novel reader AND writer, dont think I have read a short story since I can remember...
    I prefer novels that aren't too heavy, like between 180-350 pages, and my own novels usually stay around 85-85 K, although I have no problem writing shorter, say 50-60K.
    Actually since it's a totally unexplored territory for me, I want to ask you: but single short stories, where do you find them? Only in magazines and websites and stuff? because all i've found in stores are short stories collections, and even that seem very rare around here. and If you want to publish one, where do you go, since the publishers seem to only want novels? or do you wait until you have an entire collection? sheez, I feel like such a novice here, hihi, but if you never ask...
     
  11. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Generally speaking, short stories are published by magazines and anthologies, which showcase a few short stories by different authors. Publishers are generally only interested in collections from authors with publishing track records, whether of novels or short stories, as they want to know that people will be interested in the stories enough to buy the collection.

    But what is starting to take hold is the "chapbook". This is essentially a single short story, published either electronically, or as a little booklet, generally for a quid or two, but generally very cheap. I've only really seen them from small, indie publishers so far, but the idea seems to be taking hold.
     
  12. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, the few times I've been on Amazon and similar sites, I've noticed stories going for a dollar (well, 99 cents), and I was wondering about that, whether they were just short stories or whatever.
    I get most of my books freely though, through a library or whatever. I don't particularly bother with buying books very often. I can't afford it.
     
  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    For short stories, I'll read or write anything along the range of word counts, from short to long. The story dictates which is better, in my view. If you need 5000 words to tell a story properly, you haven't done yourself any favors by reducing the word count to 3000 words. Conversely, if you can tell the story well in 3000 words, then you are just harming the story by inflating it to 5000.

    For novels, as a purchaser, I avoid short works. They're priced the same as thicker novels, and for my $8.99 I'd rather get a thicker book and more hours of reading, all other things being equal. I will buy short novels, but they have to really stand out.
     
  14. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    They aren't always short stories, actually. There's a fairly good market of novellas going at rock-bottom price for some reason. I don't understand the economics of it, but *shrugs*

    I think I agree with this. Certainly a story should be as long as it needs to be.

    I'm quite sceptical of this view. Quality is unconnected to quantity, and I'd have said that a short, but excellent novel would be worth more than a much longer novel of a lower quality.
     
  15. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks Banzai. :) I'll keep an eye for them in magazines then.
    I understand where you're coming from, but my concern with the longer stories is always that they seem boring, like there is a lot of filler-material and long, boring explainations about everything plus too much flash backs and stuff. I understand that it's not the case with everyone of them, but that is what it think when I look at them. I kind of admire a writer who can manage to tell a good story within 300 pages, lol :) that is about how long they have my attention... :rolleyes: I like a more concise way of writing (both as a writer and as a reader) and almost every one of my fav books were under 400 pages. I also know that there are many of you out there who loves long stories... To each their own. :)
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    True, but that's what I meant by 'all other things being equal." If it is an excellent short novel, I'll buy it. But if I find two books and they both look quite good to me, and one is very thin and one is thick, I tend to buy the thicker one.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, depends on the novel. I don't like boring filler or explanations. That's just bad writing, regardless of length.
     
  18. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    I much prefer long novels and series. The bigger the better for me. Especially when I fall in love with an author; I never want it to end.

    As far as short stories go, I do not mind how big or small it is. All I care about is feeling satisfied with the ending afterwards.
     
  19. cobaltblue
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    When I was a kid I would treat myself to a new book with my pocket money and one of the ways I would choose which book to buy, would be the length of the book. All the books up for consideration would cost the same amount, so I'd choose the longer book because then I would get more reading time for my money.

    I don't often read short stories (although I have read some of Stephen King's short stories. I liked some and disliked others.)
    I have the opposite opinion, I cannot stand watching anything he's written turned into a made for TV movie *shudder*.

    Of course quality definitely outweighs quantity.
     
  20. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I usually prefer novels that aren't overly long. 80-90,000 words or thereabouts seems perfect to me.

    Started enjoying short stories really only over the last year or so (reading and writing). I've written one novel-length story, to see if I could. Good experience, but not sure I'm doing that again anytime soon.

    I'd quite like to write a novella and have an idea I might explore for that.
     
  21. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Shameful to say but, increasingly, my reading is restricted to that period of time between getting into bed and submitting to sleep: 15 minutes, on a good day. Given that and my shoddy memory, long efforts aren't ideal, so, the shorter the better.
     
  22. minstrel
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    I love fiction in all lengths. I grew up reading science fiction, which meant reading magazines like Analog and Fantasy and Science Fiction, and also reading the collections of short stories by the likes of Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov. Short stories were bread and butter to me. As I matured, I found I loved long novels just as much, like Dune, Lord of the Rings, along with more "literary" works like Melville's Moby Dick and Steinbeck's East of Eden.

    As a writer, though, I find myself most comfortable in intermediate lengths. Novellas fit me well. I've taken online writing courses that have length restrictions on the short stories we are to submit, and I've always had to work myself to death to compress my stories into the size allowed. I find it very hard to write a story in less than 5,000 words - in fact, I find it hard to write a story in less than 10,000 words. Most of my stuff winds up in the 20,000 word area, and that's very awkward when it comes to trying to get anything published.

    I'm a huge fan of Joseph Conrad, and I think part of that (besides the fact that he was a terrific writer) is that he was excellent in the novella length. He didn't write many full-size novels, but he wrote many collections of stories that included novella-length works. His most famous piece, "Heart of Darkness", is a novella of around 38,000 words, and it's brilliant.

    While I love big novels I can get utterly lost in, I think I'm most drawn to the middle lengths.
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i like short stories of any length, don't think i have a preference... but for novels, i don't like wasting the investment of my time and curiosity on short ones... the longer the better!
     
  24. Colin Ruggles
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    Myself and a couple of colleagues have just started writing within our small team at work. We are all individually writing what we hope to be novels, or at least longer stories.

    In order to try to improve our writing styles or stimulate our imaginations, we have started to set ourselves monthly for short stories of up to 3,000 words. We decide on a subject and go away and try to write something accordingly.

    These are easier for us to read in a session (we have 3 to get through each time) so we find they are a manageable size to both read and write.

    We only set ourselves a limit because of the time to cover things on our monthly meeting, but as long as everything you want to cover is included in your short story, it can be any length and to a great extent should be dictated by the story itself so as not to be cut short of you get to your set limit.

    hope this makes sense and good luck.
     
  25. spklvr
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    I prefer novels. Actually, I can't remember reading a short story that I have actually enjoyed, and I really HAVE tried. Regardless of genre, I like it when it's longer and you get to know and care for the characters. And I'm under the impression that a lot of short stories are attempts at something new and "artsy", and it's all this reading between the lines stuff. I'm not a huge fan. Huh, that makes me sound like some kind of hick (or whatever the English equivalent of a bondeknøl is...). I'm not sure why, it's like I just can't bring myself to give a damn about what happens when it'll be over so quickly.
     

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