Sunday, September 24, 2006

Going to great lengths--or not

A former student who now lives in Hawaii wrote to me and asked me about the word lengths of short stories, novellas and novels.

The last short story I wrote when I was at Goddard College ran 9,000 words. LONG. My instuctor, the novelist Kathryn Davis, never talked about word lengths. She was more interested in the art of the story, and in craft, and figured a story would run as long or short as it needed to. I, of course, had no idea that it would be considered too long, though I did end up placing it in a literary journal. Short stories run typically 1,500 - 3,000 words, with some as short as 250 words. Amy Hempel has some very short stories--a couple of paragraphs--and there are anthologies called Flash Fiction and Sudden Fiction with these very short shorts. I also always say, whatever If you are writing a story that is running long, let it. Let it be what it is going to be. From writing that long short story, I came to realize I was more interested in book length pieces.

A novella, even more difficult to place than a short story, said the wonderful short story writer Antonya Nelson when she came on my show, and tend to run around 20,000 words to 40,000 words give or take a few thou.

Novels usually begin at 50,000 words and go to 100,000. For first novels, to go longer than that, I hear, is taking your life into your own hands. At 50,000 words, picture Brave New World, picture Animal Farm.

But again, if it works, it works, no matter the length.


Leslea said...

Right now I have no idea what my word count is up to, but it's probably going to double before the book is finally "done." I've been writing these chapters as "couplets," wherein there at least two characters doing two different things that are somehow linked in my mind. Not sure if they will remain structured that way or not...but each chapter is about 2000-3000 words long. That seems like the perfect length for a short story.

I'd like for each of these chapters to feel whole enough to be a short story, but to not end with any resolution that keeps you from turning to the next chapter...OH, the pressure. ;

Gethsemani was incredible. Very renewing. I posted a couple of self-portraits (vain, I know) on my site, just to illustrate. Hadn't planned on sharing them, but the difference between Day One and Day Three (not to mention where I got by Day Five) was incredible.

Didn't have internet while I was there. Looking forward to listening to you and Joe E in a few moments! :)

Kathryn A. said...

BDB- Thanks for the clarification on lengths of different literary projects. I ran into (it didn't hurt) the phrase full-length short story collection. Are the stories full length or is the collection full length, and how long should it be? What number of pages? Is there an agreed upon number of stories? And if the stories aren't full length, do they not have endings? :) Color me confused at any length.

Anonymous said...

vI'll check out your site, Leslea....

K....I'll blog about this....