Do some writing this weekend, y’all.
Stories come in all lengths, but it can be hard to judge the scope of a story before
- Consider your form. A short story simply can’t deal with too many ideas. A novel has to represent nuance and complexity. If you misjudge, you might end up with a novella.
- Consider your genre. These things aren’t set in stone, but audiences expect certain word lengths in certain genres. Epic high fantasy, for example, is usually long. Literary fiction, by contrast, is often short.
- Consider your target age group: Generally speaking, novels for children and young adult are shorter than novels written for adults.
So, what do you do if your first draft of a historical epic for adults is only 40 000 words long?
- Look for a character with potential for development. What is their version of the story? Could it make a worthy subplot?
- Check that you haven’t rushed the plot. The tension should rise slowly over the course of the story: perhaps you’ve simply peaked too soon, and need to go back and write a few “spacer” scenes.
- Look for scenes where you have summarised and see if you can dramatise instead. Sometimes in our hurry to get things down, we don’t take the time to lay out details. For example, “Frodo took the ring to Mount Doom” cuts out a lot of interesting action.
Conversely, what do you do if your young adult romance clocks in at 250 000 words?
- Check that you haven’t started the story too early. A story should start with a point of strong narrative interest, not with acres of character history.
- Reduce the amount of viewpoint characters. Do you really need all of those perspectives on the action?
- Cut all repetition. Look for characters who perform similar functions, scenes that describe similar actions, even sentences that say the same thing twice.
- Look at every scene and decide whether or not it’s contributing meaningfully to the progress of the story. Those that don’t will have to go.
Of course, a story is as long as it is, and you shouldn’t feel you have to cut out important things, or puff it up with irrelevant subplots. But if you are determined to be published consider the expectations of your reader, and don’t wear out your welcome or abandon them too soon.