Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sunday Musings: Story Length

Hello October and our first Sunday Musings of the month!

Has the weather changed for you, yet? Settling into the Fall season? I know there's many who love this time of year and everything pumpkin about it. With that in mind, grab your favourite pumpkin flavour drink...or non-pumpkin...and let's get musing:

Story there a certain length that's more comfortable for you? What length is more a challenge for you?  (Readers...we'd love to hear from you, about your ideal story length).

I let the story dictate the length of the work. Sometimes, all you have is a long short story. Sometimes, it’s an epic novel.

When I first wrote The Lost Song Trilogy, it was one huge book of over 200,000 words. After consulting with my publisher and content editor, I divided it into a trilogy. That was really hard to do without giving so much backstory for books two and three. What was truly ironic, though, was I loaded so much backstory from the three books in the series that preceded these books that I had to cut out much of that out.

Novels began as a real challenge for me since I was more comfortable in the short story form. In that, you do load hints and enough backstory to move the action along at the point in time your short story begins. It took me a while to learn to let a story unfold, revealing all of that necessary information in dribs and drabs along the way.

After about the sixth book I wrote, I began to get a real feel for the writing. Though I plan every single other thing in my life, I write in a truly Zen fashion, just letting the characters develop and the action unfold. It’s scary as heck for me since I have no control, but it works. The stories still are the lengths they need to be.

I try to avoid getting tangled in the length of a story. It still happens. I’ll have a heart attack the further from 20K I get or the closer to 100K the story gets. Not sure why, it just happens. Some stories take more words, while others don’t. I don’t really have a comfort level in certain lengths. Maybe it shorter is better for me. Hahaha… As for a challenge? I’d have to say the ones that are pushing 100K or more. Those make me hyperventilate. I get really nervous and start to panic, looking for ways to shorten the story up, if possible. It’s best to just let the characters dictate how long their story will be. I should start taking that advice.

Every genre has its own recommended length for a novel. My mystery The Ginseng Conspiracy had the most words of the novels in my series at 83,000. Each of my subsequent mysteries, Murder Under the Tree and Murder by Fireworks had fewer words. For me the most comfortable number in a cozy mystery is around 70,000 words. I think writing a mystery at 85,000 words or more would definitely be a challenge.

MJ LABEFF, New Mainstream author

Story length is such an interesting discussion among writers. I write novels that are around 300 pages or more. My word count falls between around 90,000 and 120,000. That's my comfort zone. I had tried writing a short story that turned into a novella that turned into a full length a novel. I was out of my writing zone trying to accomplish a shorter piece of fiction. Each time I edited and polished the manuscript it continued to grow. The completed novel is 99,950 words. Something tells me it's not quite finished yet. I love writing secondary characters, and they're vital to writing thrillers. The more fingers I can point at different characters and clouds of suspicion around them the better. 

Nearly all my novels are in the 90,000-95,000 bracket, generally consisting of about 28-29 chapters, average length at least 3,000 words each. That works for me, giving enough content per chapter to drive the story forward and end with something that makes the reader want to read the next chapter. I have also written mini-novelettas of 12,000-15,000 words. I attended a workshop on short-story writing recently, including how to write a really short story (1,000 -3,000 words) and found this very challenging but aim to give it a try.

I've just written a book of one hundred stories, with each story containing exactly one hundred words about the First World War. I find the restrictions of telling a story in exactly one hundred words both challenging and enjoyable. However, for my writers' group, I write a story each month, and I aim for 2,000 words. By the time I've finished, the word count is usually about 2,500. So far, I've managed to edit my stories to comply with the word count, so I feel quite comfortable with stories of 2,000 words, even if it takes me a while to get there!

If I'm going to write a short story of 2,000 words or fewer, I can remember the plan in my head but if a story is, for example, novel-length, I need to do more planning so I don't forget where I'm going! A longer story is definitely more of a challenge for me.

The majority of my novels seem to fall into the 70,000-80,000 word range.  Since I just write the stories as they come without formal plotting -- I know how the tale will progress and what will happen, of course (allowing for surprises pulled by the characters -- and they usually seem to come out to that size.  A few have been larger.  The last three books of the Star Commandos series and STAND AT CORNITH are examples.  Occasionally, there is a shorter book.  My soon-to-be-released THE DARK DAYS is one of those.  I'm always interested to see the final word count since I'm creatively incapable of padding and know its length at that point will be about where the book will stand when it is published.

The thing with me is, I'm terribly wordy. I'll write a page worth of synopsis and then create a 100,000-word novel (that's about 400ish pages); which seems to be my happy place. All three of my Serpents and Flame trilogy (which follows the niece of Medusa and a grandson of Zeus and is synced to publish next year) hover around 100,000 words, and Monet Evanesce, also to be published next year and consists of a Swiss art forger and his family secret, counts around that mark as well. That, or mid-300s pagewise. Anything super short I guess plays a challenge, though I have written a couple novellas. Re-reading those, however, I sometimes ponder: could I have added more? I definitely could have added more. I love long stories, and so my editors have gently told me a time or two that, yes, that scene is great and all, but is it necessary? Then I have to carry my manuscript to the guillotine (after some brooding and fist-clenching, of course). So I supposed that more is better with me; I'd rather over-tell than leave the reader confused from lack of explanation. 

I like novellas. The 20-35 k range just feels right for me. My first pass of edits usually adds 50% to the word count as I go back and insert the "acting" into the dialog. That makes shorter stories a challenge to keep short.

My first novel (Shadow’s Edge) finished at close to 110K words (roughly 370 pgs), but now, after creating three series (Kyn Kronicles, PSY-IV Teams, and pending series), and ten books, my average length is about 85-87K (325 pgs). For some odd reason, probably because the more you write, the more you refine your style, my stories tend to naturally end about there. Since I’m an avid reader and enjoy longer books, I’m okay with that length. While I did try my hand at short stories with Tangled in Shadows from my Kyn Kronicles, I have to admit, it’s tough compressing my stories down. I admire those who can, though.

Dear reader, thank you again for joining us and we’d love to hear from you. Keep smiling and have a fun week. Never stop believing. See you next Sunday…nothing better than being cozy in bed with some Musings.

If you have a question or comment you’d like us to muse upon, do not hesitate to contact me Christine Steeves-Speakman  at

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