This question has vexed me since I’ve started writing. The first novel-length work I ever wrote was effectively a lengthened short story by throwing contrived plot twists into the story.
It was terrible.
However, the question is a valid one: What should the length of my story be?
To be honest, there’s more options than just short story or novel. You could write a novella (and I am currently working on one) or any other length of work. So I brainstormed and came up with a few pointers for people, like me, who struggle to decide which way to go with their fiction:
- The length of the work should depend on the work itself and your own style.
I spent some time working on a short story. I really liked where it was going. A deep lore, interesting fantasy elements, and even a geography. I think you can see the problem already. This work was not meant to be a short story. It was meant to be a longer format.
If your story involves a deeply entrenched history and other worldbuilding elements, you may want to go with a longer format. Short stories are designed to tell a tale quickly and effectively. It’s hard to get as detailed as you’d like with a short story, but not impossible.
- A longer format allows for mistakes.
Novels can be messy. By that I mean they should be well-written, plotted, and designed to have a story with characters. But, you can make “mistakes” that you can’t make with short stories.
Due to the word constraints in a short story, there’s less space to experiment with different scenes, or beats, in a story. You have to setup and pay off within the same 3000 words, for example. In a novel, you can set things up that suggest something, then have a reversal of those expectations later in the story. However, it may be 30,000 words between setup and pay off. You have the room to experiment with it.
If your style is more attuned to adding new plot threads, suggestions of further depth, or hidden secrets, then a longer length may be preferable.
If the story contains those elements in your outlining, then you may want to think about going for the longer length, as well.
- Short fiction has the benefit of brevity.
If “brevity is the soul of wit”, then I’d argue that a short story helps writers become witty with their choices.
Short fiction helps a writer develop plotting and endings far better than any novel. However, once a writer has developed as a short story writer, most will make the move to novels. The character development, dialogue, and worldbuilding that you can do in a novel is just plain fun. Conventional wisdom has always held that a writer should work on short stories first, then work on novels. I’m not sure I’d go as far as saying that’s required in all cases, but I see the benefits.
All in all, think about it. You and your story may benefit from a different format.
You might like some of my book reviews:
Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany
Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
You may also like my other work on writing:
Finding Your Writing Style
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