Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Long or Short

What do you think about reader's attention spans these days? I honestly believe Young Adult fiction is so popular right now because of its length and readability. You have Twitter, which is just insane, and I've even noticed commercials and ads on the radio getting shorter and shorter. It makes me wonder why so many writers don't like short stories. They're, well, SHORT. Flash fiction should be the most popular thing ever, but I don't think it is. I'm guessing readers - even the new short-attention-spanned generation - still like their stories complex and they don't even realize it. Then again, I think much of what is out there these days is fluff, but we can keep that for another post (and if you're thinking, oh my goodness, does she mean my book? no, I don't, because chances are that if we know each other you probably don't write fluff, but there can be exceptions because sometimes fluff is good and needed, trust me).

I had a blast writing my novella, and I'm itching to write another one, but first I have to work on my current novel and it's driving me nuts how long it takes to get through. It's only 74k, but it feels like forever after working on a sweet little 36k novella. I almost wonder if I've cheated myself out of being able to write longer works. I wonder if it's easier to write shorter things. Even though my novella was short, it was almost harder to keep it short than let it go long, if that makes sense.

Do you write long or short? Have you tried both? What are your thoughts on this?


  1. If I'm writing a short story it's hard for me to make it long - because if I make it more than 3000 words I start to get ideas for a novel. Novels do take a long time, but 30,000 seems like nothing to me. In my current WIP I was just getting started at 30,000. I like to read fluff sometimes, but mostly I like books that are commercial with medium complexity and with literary prose, but not too literary - less is more. I don't really like reading short stories because just as I'm getting invested it ends. If something is good I want it to last awhile. Like your novella - I think it could have been fleshed out a little more. But maybe you have a sequel in mind.

  2. I write long. L-O-N-G. The novel I have coming out in February (The Shadow of the Sun, if you must know. ;) ) went into editorial at 210K words--and my editor asked for changes that made it longer! I like writing long because it gives me the space to develop rich worlds, complex characters, and plots that surprise; when I try to write in shorter formats, I get frustrated, because those formats don't give me room to do the things I like best. And I love writing long stories for the same reasons I love reading long books: all those hours of immersion in a single story.

    I recognize this may be a minority opinion. :)

  3. I have written both. But my attempts at short generally turn out longer than I planned. And the latest short is now pestering me to become a novel. Interesting post.

    Good luck with the Monarch revisions.

  4. Mary: I think fluff is a relative term, and I'm thinking I should do a post on it sometime. That will start some fantastic controversy, I'm sure. Hah. Yeah, short is not for some people. Several people have said they'd like Cinders to be more fleshed out, but nobody has made it sound like it was bad at the length it was - they were just left wanting more, and I think for what I accomplished with the book, that is a good thing. It was always intended to be short and straightforward with little back story. I don't have a sequel in mind, no.

    I know you can write short stories, for sure. I've read a great one of yours. :)

    Barbara: Holy CRAP! That IS long! Wow. I seem to err on the shorter side of things. I like the challenge of fitting as much as I can into little spaces. Call me strange, haha. I think it's also difficult to find publishers and agents these days who will publish longer novels unless they are epic fantasy. Is that what yours is? I'm willing to bet your books are long for very good reasons. I'd love to read some of your work sometime. :)

    Stephanie: Hah. Yeah, Cinders started out as a piece of flash fiction, and see where that went? Now I'm hooked on novellas. Lovely. :)

  5. Love short ficiton. Wish I could make a living selling short stories.

    Fluff is bad. Boo fluff.

    And part of what makes Cinders so good is that it eschews fluff. It doesn't need to be fleshed out. There is a whole lot of back story and detail there by implication, and good writing does just that: it gets across more than just what's literally written. I think it's far more powerful when it's trim.

  6. And here I thought I wrote long...

    I have a hard time keeping things short. Son of Ereubus (Guardians bk 1) was 127,000 words and we cut it down to about 114,000 without the glossary.

    But, technically speaking, Guardians of Legend is one really-REALLY-big book at 342,000 words that I wrote straight through and then divided into separate books. So, Barb, I hear you there. I have trouble with anything less than 100,000.

    I'm envious of both short story and novella writers. I WISH I had the ability to be so precise. I can't write flash fiction or a short story to save my life. Really. I like reading both of them, but you won't see me attempt either. :)

  7. Michelle--You caught me. It *is* epic fantasy. And even epic fantasy is hard to move at that length, unless you've got a good sales track record. I'm fortunate to be with a small press, where there's more leeway in these things. No doubt your taste for fitting more in smaller spaces will serve you well... :)

  8. I never know how long a story is really. I just know that I'm there for my characters. I'm there for them and I'm on the ride. I can't get off so I just write as long as I can for them.

    And when a story ends, whether it be long or short, I just wanted to give my reader a good adventure, a ride that he or she could remember for years to come.

    It's quality, not quantity, really. Write a short story with power and wow the world with it or write an epic and surprise everyone.

    Sure, the attention span of people is much shorter, but if you got them by the neck and take them for an awesome ride, I'm sure they'll stick to it.

    So, write on!

  9. Nevets: Thank you for your compliments on Cinders. :) I really wanted no fluff. It's interesting to see who likes the lack of back story and who wants more, more, more. I wonder if there's a correlation between those who write short fiction or long fiction...

    Breanne: Wow, you do write long, even if it's not as long as Barbara's. I used to write long, but it seems the more I write, the shorter things get. All those words make me itchy and uncomfortable. I like READING long stuff all right, but writing it is way too overwhelming. t

    Barbara Haha, I knew it was epic fantasy! I thought, wow, what else could be that long and get a publisher?! I'm NOT a huge epic fantasy fan. Okay, put it this way. The only epic fantasy I have ever read is LOTR. Next will be Breanne's Guardians series. I am slowly working my way into the genre, and I hope to love it soon! (I'm originally a stuck-up literary snob who got her degree in English, if that makes sense, hah)

    Vatche Good views on that! In the end length shouldn't matter. :)

  10. I've always been told that size doesn't matter (by my lady friends), but in publishing for whatever reason, while there aren't strict rules, I have been told that there are guidelines for what is "publishable". Rules are meant to be bent, but I think if you stray too far from the guidelines, you are going to have a much tougher time getting published.

    But it all comes down to the story. If the story only needs 70K words to tell, then that's the story. If it needs 250K, it's a bigger story, live with it.

    I've written a couple of short stories, but I don't plan on ever publishing them, so it feels like a waste of time. (FYI, any guesses on how to turn a short story into a novel? Easy, add more characters).

    Mostly what I write is commercial thrillers, so I have to write a manuscript that will be between 80K and 120K words, because that is the guideline for that genre.

  11. I like to play in both mediums. Before, I could only write novels. As I grew experienced in that, moved on to short stories.

    Shorts is like composing a piano piece. Practicing both the writing and playing makes perfect.

    Writing a novel, on the other hand, is only like piano playing if your lover is sitting on one side of you with her tongue in your ear, and on the other side, a spider monkey on crank is poking you in the kidney with a sharp object. And the piano is underwater.

  12. Michelle, I think there are two kinds of back story: expounded and implied. Tolkien to me is pretty much one extreme end of expounded back story. Some people love bathing in that level of detail. What Cinders has is not a lack of story but an ample supply of implied back story -- descriptions, actions, and dialog that suggest what the back story is. Some people love the almost reflexive exercise of inferring those details.

    You're probably right that among writers it often correlates to what they prefer to write. Or rather, what they feel is their strongest writing. There are times I enjoy writing more expansively, but I think my shorter, sleeker writing is far superior.

    Honestly, and crossing my fingers that this comes across as confident and honest rather than conceited, I would put the writing in much of my flash up against that in many novels. The quality of writing my novels has moments that hit that level, but it's not consistent because the form really does require a certain degree more space between the letters.

    Alas, for someone who wants to make his living at writing these days, the novel is the last lingering (if slim) hope of doing so.

  13. Douglas: Hahah about your opening line. *blush* - I get what you're saying about publishing. I think there are "rules" for a very good reason. I think even for self-publishing writers shouldn't go publishing a 180,000 word manuscript that could have been half that and they were just too lazy to tighten it up. I guess that's freedom of choice, but readers certainly do have their preferences for what works and what doesn't, and that's where the "rules" seem to come from because that's what sells. Amazing how that works!

    Anthony Oh, that's interesting how you moved up to short stories after you became more experienced. I think that's smart and to be expected because I honestly thinks it takes a different, almost more practiced skill to write a dang good short story than a dang good novel.

    And, good sir, you constantly come up with the most amazing analogies. You should write a book of them. :)

    Nevets: I absolutely what you say here. You should write a blog post about this, I think. Or I should. Or we both should. I think it's important to know what kind of back story you're trying to achieve in your work. Almost all short stories and flash fiction have implied back story - they can't work with expounded back story because they would simply be too long, not to mention extremely unfocused. I think both kinds of back story require great skill to work in a piece, but I personally like implied back story, and I couldn't have anything else in a novella-length piece. I knew I wanted to write something lyrical and beautiful and literary, yet entertaining. I knew that at the time I did not have the skill to pull that off in a full-length novel, so a novella it was. I'm not sure I could sustain it for a full-length novel now, but I might try in a few years after I've finished my other two novellas.

    I think if you're pulling off that sleek writing in your short work, you can work it up to your novels. That's exactly what I'm doing right now. We are the opposite of Anthony, it seems. :)

  14. Oh, and I meant *love* what you have to say. Forgive my late-night response typos!

  15. And a good thing the world has writers and readers who like both! :)

    I think I will post about this topic... You should, too.

    And I was about to say something else about how it's working out in my my novels so far, but I'll save that for the post. lol

  16. Nevets: I look forward to your post! Don't let me forget to expound on this... :)

  17. Michelle, didn't mean to make you blush... *dig, dig, dig* .. I hope my comment didn't offend .. *digging faster* ... it was just meant as some offbeat humor ... *digging frantically* ... just a smartass comment is all. And by the way, I've never actually heard that comment from anyone. :)

  18. I'll tell ya...I'm a writer and it's the hardest thing I've ever done.

  19. Edlund: ALMOST the hardest for me, hah. I'd have to put raising my daughter up at the top of the list. :)


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