The Long and the Short of It

How do we decide a length for our stories?

I think a lot of it has to do with the stories themselves.

A friend of mine used to say that novels didn’t adapt as well into feature films as short stories did, because a feature film was essentially a short story, about the Most Important Event in a person’s life. If you adapt a whole novel into a feature film, you must perforce skip a lot, because novels are, in general, about the Most Important Time in a person’s life. (Yes, those statements are full of generalizations, but they’re still useful, I think.)

I brought up the feature film issue because to me, that explanation also tells us something about the sorts of stories that work better as shorts and those that work better as longs. Sure, some novels focus on one event, and some novels take place in very compressed time frames, but most of them follow the characters for a little while. I sometimes envision it this way: the novel as a piece of string and the short story as a little round thing in the palm of your hand. (I never said I envisioned it in a clever way….)

So I think it’s important to know what your story is before you decide its length. Sometimes, one finds out what sort of story it is while writing it, and wastes a lot of time either trying to turn a short story idea into a novel, or to cram a novel idea into a short story.

Related Post:

Romance in Short.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. Her blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and occasional author interviews.
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5 Responses to The Long and the Short of It

  1. Darla M Sands says:

    Great point! I've seen too many movies that would have been more enjoyable [and less of a waste of writing time ;) ] if they'd been contstrained to thirty minutes. Now, if only I could figure out what I'm writing before the characters take over. Sigh…

  2. Savanna Kougar says:

    My stories love to fool me into thinking they're a novella, then they get me hooked. Oh, bad news, writer, we want to be over a 100,000 words and, guess what, this is actually a trilogy series.
    That's what happened with Murder by Hair Spray.

  3. Victoria Janssen says:

    Darla, I've seen some movies like that….

    Savanna, what happens if you decide it's a trilogy? Can you get a novella then? *heh*

  4. Savanna Kougar says:

    Victoria, nope. The scope of the story is a trilogy of about 100,000 words each ~ the first book is epubbed and in print. There's lots of world building, since it's a futuristic and they also travel to the hero's homeworld. And the various plots are complex. Lots of secondary characters, too.

  5. Victoria Janssen says:

    Hmmm, not much with the novella-length, then!

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