Monday, October 10, 2011

Short VS. Long

Publishers usually have set word counts they prefer for their genre fiction. Back in the day, the working class people read pulp novels, they averaged between 100 and 128 pages and were mostly easy to fit into pockets and inexpensive thanks to the poor paper quality on which they were printed. Major newspapers also published short stories in parts in their columns to draw in readers. Short stories were the thing for the average person. Of course, there were plenty of longer books in print, thanks to advances in the printing machines along the way. But it makes one wonder just what side of the road you should be on. Long novel or short story?

The first novel I set out to write after my long hiatus away from the writing world, I discovered a couple of houses I thought it would fit into. So I told myself I'd write a set amount of words. Like 75,000. I felt I could convincingly get the characters' kinks worked out in that amount of time. It took me nine months to get from the idea to the finished product. FYI, I hated that MS by the time I got done with it. So I tucked it away and have only attempted to fix it one other time. It's hidden in the deepest recesses of my flash drive now.

However, I started writing steampunk for kicks. In a week and a couple of days I pounded out twenty-five thousand words. Yep, a story from start to finish. I was so proud of myself, it was almost sickening. About two months later I started another story, a historical paranormal romance. This time 30,000 took me about four months, but I was still pretty happy with this reduced time. It dawned on me that I'm not particularly well-suited for writing long books. I'm happier when the action is concise, the details aren't weighing me down and there's lots of dialogue to clue you in on back story. It's not that I don't read long books, I'm just not very good at writing them.

The trouble here: Most of the houses I was looking at want longer manuscripts. They have to make their printing time worthwhile. But there's no call to try to advance my word count. Not unless it's going to benefit the story (which I won't deny, in some cases that might be just the thing). There are other media outlets that might be perfectly content with my shorter novels. For example, e-publishers. Many of the e-publishers you research online have categories that shorter MSs will fit into. Or they prefer their stories to be between 10,000 and 80,000 words. You can thank e-readers and computers for this saving grace. Or if you choose to self-publish, the word count doesn't matter at all provided you have a platform and following already in place. Your fans will know what you're capable of.

Not that every story I write from here on in will stop at the 30k mark. I did recently expand my first steampunk novel to 80,000 words and I actively participate in NaNoWriMo, so I have a couple of 50,000 word novels in the wings. For me, shorter is better. I get too distracted and find myself struggling to keep the plot going when I have to write novel-length fiction. I also know that readers are distracted too and sometimes they prefer a more to-the-point book.

What works for you? Struggling to find one more word to hit your goal or do the words flow from  your finger tips like chocolate from a fountain?

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Brenda said...

I'm very, very, very--did I say very--wordy. I have to go back through my stories and chop, chop, chop!

Sheri Fredricks said...

Hi Allison ~ I don't worry about word count while I'm writing. I figure it is what it is. If I need to chop or add, that can all be done in edits. My current WIP is around 130,000 right now. Chop