Several years ago I was involved in a community drive to convince our local city council to add a dog park to the city park. I created the logo, researched dog park facts, wrote up a media packet, and set up a website. During my research, I discovered that not all dogs are a good fit for dog parks.
Sadie, our Catahoula Hound, pretty much failed the test because she’s a fearful dog who reacts with aggressive behavior in many situations. (We adopted her when she was about a year old and have no idea what shaped those first months of her life.) Here I was volunteering to help get a dog park built and I probably couldn’t use it unless we took Sadie at oh-dark-thirty, before any other canines showed up.
What’s this got to do with writing?
Glad you asked.
Stories come in all sizes and shapes, but sometimes a perfectly good story idea isn’t a good fit for a book. It may work well as flash fiction, a short story, or even a novella, but there isn’t enough there to warrant writing a whole book. Yet we get so caught up in the idea, we start writing, never realizing our concept won’t stretch far enough to be a novel.
There’s no need to ditch a good story idea. As a writer, you just need to be able to spot the problem, accept it, and write to the length that best fits your story idea.
How do you do that? Well, you need to know what makes a short story short and what makes a novel long. Short stories run from 100 words (flash fiction) to 1,000 words (short short story) to 10,000 words (short story) maximum. Novellas come in about 45,000 words. Novel lengths vary. Genre fiction such as romances or men’s action adventure novels can be as short as 50,000 words. Most mainstream novels clock in at about 100,000 words or more.
There are, of course, exceptions. But for our purposes, we’ll stick with the above word lengths.
How to recognize your story’s best length.
Compared to a novel, shorter stories have no room to sprawl. The number of characters will be limited, the time frame will be brief, and there will be no subplots. Which is why they are called short stories. They can be fun to write and definitely don’t require the time commitment of novels.
Novellas give the writer a little more leeway, but again, littering the landscape with too many characters and multiple subplots detract from the main story line. You may easily have enough for a tight, fast-paced novella that would never be enough for a longer novel.
Even though they are allowed to sprawl more, novels still need to be focused. Too many characters, as I mentioned in my last blog, and you clog the story pipeline. Same with subplots. Too many side stories and it’s easy to create a complicated, difficult to follow story. It’s also easy to forgot to resolve those numerous subplots.
Novels are filled with major and minor characters, a time frame that stretches as far as the writer needs, and well chosen subplots. This is why they aren’t short stories.
If you feel as if you have to keep adding substance to your story idea you might want to stop and take a closer look. This particular story might work better as short story or novella. On the plus side, short stories are becoming quite popular as readers are pressed for time in this busy world. Offering a free short story on your website can be an excellent way to give readers a sample of your writing. If the stars align correctly, they’ll enjoy your short story, so much, they’ll buy your books.