Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October Theme: Short and Shortish Books!

If you've been following my blog for long, you may have already guessed I tend towards the more massive offerings. This month I'll be doing something a bit different.  The focus will be entirely on short and shortish books: novellas, short stories, short story collections, etc.

For authors, short stories of various lengths provide a great way to practice writing, to get your work and your name out there, and to build a volume of work in a rather short period of time.  They're also great for getting recognized in competitions, such as those available on Writer's Digest.

For readers, short stories provide a glimpse into another world, a quick escape, and an introduction to an author's style.  They also make great bedtime stories, even for adults, and yes, some of the stories I'll feature this month are definitely not something you'd read to a kid.

To kick off my month of shorts, let's run through what makes a short story a short story.

Elements of a short (or shortish) story
First off, short stories are short. Yes, I know that's a master of the obvious statement there, but it's a valid one.  Why?

Simple, it puts some extreme limits on how the story can be told.  Because you have so few words to fit it all in, everything needs to happen with a purpose, and the scope has to be pretty tight.  Dialog, descriptions, number of characters, all have to be central to the story.

It seems like a short story would be easier to write than a longer one, and that may be true if you're just writing for fun.  But, if you are planning to share your work with others, the same kind of work must go into it: revision, editing, beta readers, and proofreading.

The challenge is the extra emphasis on clear, concise writing without any fluff:  like describing the glorious summer day and meticulously cataloging the flora and fauna, like twisting together two or three side plots, or like laying out an elaborate back story before you introduce the main character.  Fluff takes up valuable space that could be used for the story.

It's hard to cut that stuff out, but for the good of the story, do it.  One of the best things, in my opinion, about writing short stories is that it teaches one how to make every word count.  Remember, a short story may be shorter than a full length novel, but it has all the same elements: introduction, rising action, climax and falling action.

A quick breakdown of the types of stories, based on size:
Short stories:  A story meant to be read in one sitting and often focus on a single character, theme or incident. These typically run from 1.5-30k words.*

Novellas: A story that can be read anywhere from one sitting to a few sittings. Ranging from 30-50k words,*  novellas have quite a bit more meat to them than short stories, but the focus should still be on efficient storytelling.

Collections: Multiple short stories, usually with a common theme, setting, or author, that together are about the size of a Novella or Novel.  Pick one up, read one or two stories and come back for more later. Unlike a novel, however, each story should be self-contained and complete, even if closely related to others in the collection.

Novels: Stop, eat, rest and continue reading later.  Novels can range anywhere from 55k to 300k words* and usually take several sittings to read.

Epic Novels: Get settled in, because this may take a while.  Epic novels are those stories that can't fit into the 300k limit.  Often, these stories not only blow away the single book word count, but also spill over into multiple volumes.

So, what's your favorite type of book, based on size?
Do you like the quick satisfaction of a novella, or are you in it for the long haul with a full length novel or epic novel? Let me know in the comments.

*Klems, Brian A. (2007), Questions and Quandaries: Novel and Short Story Word Counts, http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/questions-and-quandaries/marketing/novel-and-short-story-word-counts