26 June 2007

REPOST 6/20/2007 What does length have to do with it?

The post that sparked mine...

Like Becka, I've had reviewers pan a story for what the reviewer wishes it was instead of what it is. It's very frustrating for an author, especially when the rating systems in place with the publishers will tell a reviewer, before he/she even chooses the book for review, what length, heat rating and genre a book is. You'd think a reviewer wouldn't choose to review something that doesn't appeal already, but that's an old blog post, to be sure.

Instead of rehashing that, I'll cover another subject, one that I don't THINK I've covered before. I could be wrong, though. If you've heard this discussion before, feel free to skip it. Grinning...

Many people don't understand the difference between writing novels, novellas and short stories. It IS very different. It's so different that some people can only do one or the other, no matter how hard they try to learn the other.

The novel is a journey, which the novella can be to a lesser extent. A short story is the moment. As Becka pointed out, there is increasingly less time to delve into character and world, as you move shorter and shorter.

That doesn't mean you should ever abandon that step, though. I once did two characters, both deep third with backstory, in 3500 words. It can be done!

The shorter you move, the more focused the story must be...on the character and on the situation. By the time you get to flash fiction, you are writing what I term "hit and run fiction." You set it up, hit the reader hard and then get out of Dodge. It's all you have time for, and it's the style of the story. You can punch the reader in a novel, but it's not the same sort of punch you deliver in a short story.

Becka questions whether there is any novella that wouldn't be improved by turning it into a novel. I answer 'yes.' There are undeniably novellas that wouldn't work better as a novel.

Why? If the readers like the characters, why can't there always be a full novel in the story? Because there can't. I could, conceivably, invent some new roadblocks for them. I could, possibly, draw it out. But, the problem is...it's going to feel slapped together that way. The pacing isn't going to mesh, and the situation isn't going to feel as real. Sometimes, a novella's-worth of story is all there is, without artificially inflating it to something it isn't.

If the readers are watching, you'll likely see those characters show up again elsewhere. I don't typically abandon characters.

At the same time, I don't want to weaken the story by tossing in artificial roadblocks that might not fit well with the action already happening.


Helen said...

Haven't read the post that sparked yours yet, but when I write, I tend to think of story length in terms of:
Number of characters
Number of locations/settings
Length of time covered in story
Number and size of obstacles for characters to deal with

My short stories always have fewer characters, limited settings and scope of time, and limited number of problems to address. As you say, the shorter the story, the more focussed it becomes on the moment. To me, the shorter the story, the more intimate or personal it becomes. In which case, I often perceive novels as short stories interwoven to form a larger picture. Does that make sense?

Unknown said...

Hi Brenna,

I've tried writing shorter stories but I just can't do it as I'm too much of a waffler but I also have to actually finish a dirty draft first LOL.

I've read a few novella's and wished they'd been longer so thanks for helping me understand why they can't be.