Story Progress and Brooding Over Word Counts and Story Lengths

1.7K words on “Rampion.” Matthew had to all but drag me away from my laptop last night to go to bed.

Waist deep in the final scene, although there’s a chunk in the middle that still needs fleshing out. I’ve got a placeholder jammed in there which essentially reads: “Bad things happen here. Insert.”

This story is well over halfway done but not quite in the homestretch, and it’s just shy of 10K words. Doubt it’ll overflow from novelette into novella length—especially considering there’s vast swaths of utterly raw, unedited prose which are undoubtedly overwrought, overdone, and will need to be ruthlessly slashed, not to mention all the trimming I’ll surely want to do to streamline the pacing and plot. Even so, it’s still pinging my “Eeep! Too long, too long! Unmarketable!” alarm.

I know in my head that a story should be exactly as long as it needs to be, marketing constraints be damned. But it is an indisputable reality of short fiction that longer is harder to sell. There are fewer markets which accept stories greater than 5K words, and there’s a sense of a longer work having to be better than its shorter counterparts in order to earn its space.

It’s both frustrating and a shame. I’ve been finding myself enjoying novelette- and novella-length short fiction more these days, and I appear to be gravitating to writing them too. ‘Course, I’m still stymied by that hop from short form to novel, but I’ll get there eventually…probably.

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2 Responses to Story Progress and Brooding Over Word Counts and Story Lengths

  1. Anonymous says:

    Challenges of short fiction

    That’s exactly the problem I’m facing… I’m a good way into finishing a short story – the first that I really feel is good enough that it might get purchased by a short story market.

    Except that it’s looking to be around 11,000 words long, or so. Frankly haven’t a clue how to get it down to 5,000 words, and not sure I’d even want to… If it’s unsalable because of that, not much I can do about it. Making it shorter for shorter’s sake doesn’t seem like a viable alternative.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Re: Challenges of short fiction

      I always advise folks not to twiddle with a story for the sole purpose of making it fit some word count constraint, that the most important priority is that a story be good. And, looking over my submissions spreadsheets, I actually have had pretty good luck at finding homes for my novelettes. But I’ve also rewritten stories to get them to some word count upon editorial request, so I do admit that the whole “it should be as long as it needs to be” ideology flies out the door when it comes to the nitty gritty business of making the sale.

      Still, I think it remains a sound principle. After all, most writing tenets can be trumped by “oblige thy editor.”

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