In Defense of Short Fiction

In last week’s post about sorting fiction by length, I mentioned my (strong) feelings on brief fiction, and so this week is all about those (strong) feelings.

Warning: copious use of parentheses ahead; also, slight ranting.

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There seems to be some sort of grading of stories by their length, and I’m not talking about sorting. I’m talking about an inflated sense of importance or significance or prestige or betterness (yes, I made that a word) based on a story’s wordcount.

It’s become a badge of sorts to write mammoth novels, as if the higher your wordcount is, the more fantastic of a writer you are. It’s some sort of milestone to reach 100,000 words in your novel or for your final word count to come to 120,000 words (or higher), and it’s almost like you haven’t arrived as a writer until you’ve hit the big 100k.

And if your novel’s only in the 60,000’s, well, I mean, that’s great and all, but… you know… it’s kind of short, and really, what story is worth only 64,000 words? And if it doesn’t even make it to 50k, well, um, is it even technically a novel? Isn’t that more of, like, a novella, and who even reads those?

Spoiler alert: it’s small-minded to think that a story is better because it’s longer. This post is for the people who are afraid their story’s too short, it’s for the people who think a short story isn’t worth their time, and it’s also for the people who think that you aren’t a certified writer/author until you’ve written a full fledged novel.

Writers, listen up and write this down: the. power. of. a. story. does. not. lie. in. its. length.

I’ll say it again because some people are thick-headed like me: the power of a story does not lie in its length (that’s a quote from a writer named Tara L. Masih, by the way).

A famous bit of micro-fiction (typically attributed to Ernest Hemingway) is only six words, and it tells quite a sorrowful story.

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

I bet you didn’t see that coming.

I read that story, and I get an image of this young couple who’ve been trying to have a baby for so long, and then they finally get pregnant, and the baby’s coming, and they get things all set up for a nursery and a little mobile over a crib in a room painted blue, and there’s all that excitement and love and anticipation, but when the baby comes, it’s stillborn. So they sell unworn shoes. What about you? What story rises up in your mind when you read those six words? What thoughts and feelings come to the surface when you see that handful of words?

Peeps, the power of a story does not lie in its length.

The power of a story lies in the emotions that it evokes, the memories it pulls out of the moldy corners of our minds, the old truths that it casts in a new light, the complacency that it challenges, the new ideas that it gives, and the old ideas it causes us to reexamine.

So go after that power, that heart.

Some stories need a hundred thousand words to tell them, maybe even five hundred thousand. I get that.

And some stories call for only six or six thousand or sixteen thousand or sixty thousand words, so don’t try to add to them. Don’t make them bloated in your quest for an awe-inspiring wordcount and don’t think less of yourself because you “only wrote a novella”. Before you start berating a story (yours or someone else’s) for being “only” 30,000 words, remember that the power of a story does not lie in its length.

There is so much brio in brevity, so much to be said for the writer who can take a snapshot of life with fire and few words, so much in the story that you can read in an hour and come away shaken, so much in that image painted with broad, deft keystrokes that comes to mind again and again.

My point is: don’t strive to write 80,000 words. Don’t even strive to write a novel. Strive to write a story, however brief or long, that is your absolute best, one that leaves a handprint on someone’s heart, one that glorifies God.

So it’s 231,000 words. That’s quite something.

So it’s 878 words. That’s quite something.

So it’s 43,000 words. That’s quite something.

And don’t just read stories that take days to consume. Read the ones that are only as long as your lunch break but take much longer to forget. Read the ones that only fill an hour but keep haunting your heart. Read the ones that demand only an afternoon to start and finish but leave a trail of new thought through your mind.

The small story can have just as much power as the big book. You are just as much a writer for that small story as you are for that big book. Even if you can never master writing short fiction and can only write winding epics, you are a writer. Even if you can never get to that 60k, 89k, 124k novel and have to be content with novellas and novelettes and flash fictions, you are a writer.

All else aside, just remember these two things: the power of a story doesn’t lie in its length, and whatever you do, do it with all your might and for the glory of God.

So, peeps, talk to me. What do you think about all this?

Fiction Sorted by Length

On Saturday, I put out a poll on Twitter (hint: you should follow me on Twitter) asking peeps what kind of post they’d like to read on Penprints today, and of the three options presented, they favored a post about brief fiction.

Now, my feelings on brief fiction are quite strong (translation: I should probably calm down a little because they’re a wee bit too strong), but as I settled in to write out my thoughts on brief fiction I realized that I need to clarify some terms before diving in. Hence this post about classifying fiction by its length (i.e. – wordcount).

So, here’s a tiny post to lay out some common definitions of the various kinds of fiction.

 

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Micro-fiction.

Micro-fiction (which also goes by the names Postcard Fiction, Sudden Fiction, and Nano Fiction depending on who you’re talking to) is about as tiny as it gets without getting ridiculous. We’re talking 100 words or less. Yeah, it’s basically a blink, or better yet, just a spastic eye-twitch (you know those ones you get when you’re way past tired).

Here’s a piece of micro-fiction by Just B. Jordan that was published over on The Lightning Blog.

Flash Fiction.

Flash fiction (or the short short story) is right on the heels of its younger micro-fiction sibling. At 1,000 words or less, flash fiction is a flash-bang grenade designed to hit hard and fast.

Here’s a flashfic (that’s slang for flash fiction) by the fabulous Katie Grace

Short Story.

Short stories are where things begin to get a little more complicated and require a little more commitment than the leaner likes of micro and flash fiction that you can read in the line at a grocery store. It can take an entire lunch break to polish off a short story that ranges from 1,000-7,500 words.

Here’s a short story from Just B. Jordan on her blog.

Novelette.

And now we come to the beginnings of the novel’s family. Novelette’s are like those kids who never really grew out of that gangly, lanky phase and somehow have a size eleven foot, arms that are too long for any normal shirt, and most likely an intolerance to gluten. Now, I’m not saying this to be mean; I’m just saying that it’s quite hard for a novelette to fit into blogs or magazines or books because they range from 7,500 to 20,000 words. The best hope for a novelette is typically an anthology of some sort.

Five Enchanted Roses is a prime example of an anthology of novelettes.

Novella.

Novellas are the more filled-out brothers to novelettes. Ranging between 20,000 and 50,000 words, novellas are ideal e-books and $0.99 buys for your Kindle. They’re not quite as demanding as a novel and can be read in one night, a fairly quick but still lengthy fiction fix.

Personally, I recommend A Wish Made of Glass by Ashlee Willis (it’s like reading poetry but better) or The Girl Who Could See by Kara Swanson..

Novel.

At last, we come to the famed (perhaps overrated?) novel. From here on out, the sky is the limit. And I mean that literally. Novels are 50,000 words up to infinity and beyond. Now, some make the distinction between novels and sequels/epics, but I find this to be pointless personally. There are some wordcount distinctions made from genre to genre, but since that’s a genre thing, I won’t get into it here. So, novels can be 55,000 words. Or 89,000 words. Or 111,000 words. Or 230,000 words. (Note: marketability will plummet as your wordcount rises for a debut novel.)

And that, kids, is the brief introduction to next week’s post will be all about my (very strong) thoughts on brief fiction. So stay tuned.

How long are some of your writing projects? What’s the longest thing you’ve ever written? What’s the shortest thing you’ve ever written? Do you think it takes more skill to write a meaningful micro-fiction than it takes to write a 130k novel?

P.S. – don’t ask me what these wordcounts work out to when it comes to the number of pages; that’s all dependent on formatting, dialogue vs. description, etc..

P.P.S. – you should like my Facebook page to get updates on my secret (and wildly exciting) project.

~ Rosalie out. <3

 

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