Not All About Length

It’s not the size, but what you do with it that counts.

Alright you lot, get your minds out of the gutter. I don’t want to talk about that today, but rather story length. Stories come in all shapes and sizes; long ones, short ones, medium ones and zig-zaggy ones. Some people prefer short stories, others would rather read a full length novel instead. No size is particularly better than any of the others, but as with all things in life everyone has their own opinions and preferences. Even writers. Some of us only want to write short stories and would get bored trying to write an entire novel. Others only write novels and consider a short story a waste of their time and talents. Many of us write both in unequal measure.

There is no particular story length that is “easier” to write than all the others. All stories require the same skills in grammar and punctuation, the same ability to use a few words to build an entire world in the reader’s mind, and the same techniques of characterization. Each has required skills specific to it, but practicing either helps hone your writing skills for the other form.

Personally, I prefer to write novels and novellas. Nearly every time I try to write a short story, I end up with a book on my hands. Part of this is an inherent tendency towards wordiness (or had you noticed that? I thought I noticed you noticing). Part of it is simply that I don’t really read short stories very much. I prefer longer works, usually the longer the better.

With that said, I have pretty much every collection of Valdemar short stories that Mercedes Lackey has ever produced, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple short stories are among my favorite mystery stories of all time, and I’ve been known to read children’s books for my own amusement well into adulthood. Moreover, I periodically have the urge to write a short story. As I said above, frequently these end up simply being the first chapter or two of a novel, but occasionally the story is complete in a few words. A recent short story, titled “A Little Imagination,” is actually one of my best pieces of writing to date in my own opinion. It is exactly the length it needs to be, with nothing extra and nothing held back. I am currently polishing it for submission to a major magazine or online ‘zine. If it is picked up, I’ll be ecstatic. Many great novelists got their first sale with a short story. Others have never written anything shorter than 300 pages in their lives. No one path works better than any other.

Currently Reading: Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss



  1. February 20, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    Wish I could write short stories … but my mind doesn’t seem to work that way. I still try even though the characters seem to jump into book length WIPs.

  2. Daisy Harris said,

    February 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Length is an issue near and dear to my…um, heart. Story length, at lease. The reason is that I write short. A “full length” novel for me isn’t much over 50,000 words. My 16,000 wd Short Story, Cupid’s Arrow, in the My Sexy Valentine antho is prolly my best work to date.

    With my longer works- the only way I pull it off is by having a prominent romantic subplot- which is often more engaging than my main plot.

    But with ebooks becoming so popular, I think length is becoming less of an issue. I’m finding more and more that I prefer shorter stories. So why not keep writing them?

    (Shhh… Don’t tell my agent. šŸ™‚

    Cheers, Daisy

    • Lia said,

      February 20, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      Kay: Even if you can’t keep it short, it’s not a bad way to jump-start a novel. I’ve found that some of my favorites have started out as short stories and evolved organically into longer works.

      Daisy: I agree that length is not an issue with e-publishing. Of course, e-publishing is still just a small part of over-all publishing, but you can probably build a nice career out of shorter stories these days because of it. Anyway, I believe in writing what you love, so your secret is safe with me. šŸ˜‰

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