Little Books

Blog No 156

Each week I sit down and write one of these blog posts. When I’m done (and it’s posted) I spend the time before the next one furiously brainstorming what to write about. Last week, due to the book I was given by my mother, I decided to write about book lengths. Instead I wrote about audio books, my mother, and a little about my brief time in another city. I don’t know how I got so far off track, but it happens, and I am happy with how that post turned out. Now I want to try again (this time more focused) and explore the topic of book lengths. I can only hope I manage to stay on track. You may need to check out the last post Thoughts about Books for this to make sense.

Currently I am working on the final layout issues of the short story collection that Christian and I are publishing. I’m also a third of the way through writing my first novel and picking away at a novella that I’m rewriting, hoping it will be the start of a series that has been on my mind for my years. They are all writing, but the lengths are very different and therefore they are written in different way. The story structure, the detail, and the plot vary greatly based on the length of each publication.

The collection is finished. I’m just putting the stories in their final format so we can get a page number. The stories vary in length from under 2000 words to over 10 000 (as short stories often go). It was sticking point for me that there would be different sized stories in the collection. Each story has its own feel because of it, and the art form of short story is all about those variations. It gives the readers the sensation of development and variety within a strictly confined set of narratives. Short stories are all about the development of the idea. It is paramount to all else (including plot, characters, setting, or structure). Everything develops from the idea, so the length (along with the other element) will fill the need of the idea. Therefore some short stories are really short, and others broach the novelette or even novella.

The novella series is an idea I’ve been playing with for a couple of years. The story itself comes from my high school days, but the development into the novella is more recent. I’m not as experienced with the novella (outside of some readings) so I won’t make as bold a proclamation on the key element as I did with short stories. I do feel that the plot and characters (at least in my story) are competing for the top spot. So far story growth has come out of them about equally. How I see the novella is an opportunity for me to get out entertaining books that don’t need a lot of investment, quickly. The plot works a lot like movie trilogies, each book having arks of its own while being an ark of the whole story. The possibilities are exciting and publishing a 30 000 to 35 000 word book is less daunting than the novel.

The novel is chugging along (a lot more slowly that I would like). It needs a lot more work and the nature of the style means the book will likely need to be over 90 000 words to feel complete (especially since it is a standalone book). I am very new to writing novels and have had a lot of great advice from other writers I’ve met and worked with (and from my own research). The consensus seems to be that a fiction book should be 60 000 words minimum. While that would be a good size historically, most newer books (last few decades) fall into the 80 000 plus range as a minimum. For specific genera, the number could be as high as 90 000 to 120 000 to be considered a good length. With that in mind, and the story I want to tell, I’m looking to have a book at that 90 000 word mark. I couldn’t tell you what my driving story element is (other than perhaps style in terms of genera) but where I currently am in the book, that final number feels right (and intimidating).

Some of my favourite novels seem to fall way under those numbers. I am Legend is just over 25 000 words. The Hitchhiker’s Guide is 46 000. It seems to me that books were shorter on average for a time. It makes me wonder if the new minimum length is something imposed by the readers, writers, industry, or something else. All of those numbers are fairly arbitrary and a book can be any length the author wants. I’m not pointing fingers or complaining (though I’m sure it sounds that way). I’m just working out my thoughts as I type and the idea of writing 60-something-thousand more words for my novel makes me want to go hide. I know the story is there, but writing is hard and it’s hard to tell if what you are writing is any good (especially in the first draft). Anyway, I’ve gone on way too long. Hopefully I can come up with another post for next week.

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