Finally, I have finished my current novel’s first draft, and at this point all I can think is “good riddance.” The writing pace went something like this:
- November: 60,000 words
- December: 25,000 words
- First two weeks in January: 10,000 words
- Third week: 2,000 words
It’s not exactly proportional, you might notice. The ending is not really an ending at this point, and I shudder to think of what will happen when I have to edit it. I didn’t really make it easy for myself. But it’s done, and now it’s on to my next project: a short story.
Short stories are not quite like novels. The length is an obvious factor. The common classification of “novel” in terms of word count is anything longer than 40,000 words. According to Wikipedia (I know we’re not supposed to cite Wikipedia but I just needed the bare bones information), novelettes/novellas range from 7,500 words to 40,000 words. (And that’s all the information I’ll probably ever have on writing those because my novels struggle to stay under 100,000 most of the time, and my short stories generally peak at 3000. Not my preferred type of writing.)
Anyway, all that goes to say that short stories generally go up to 7,500 words at most. The convention is that 1 page = 250 words, so that’s 30 pages. At most. (There are also sub-genres of short stories such as flash fiction or drabbles or any number of types that focus on getting things even shorter.)
To go with the length, the structure of the story must also change. A short story still follows a rising action, with plot points and scenes and a climax followed by a denouement. But there are a lot of structural points that must be glossed over or avoided altogether because there are simply not enough pages. The number of characters is reduced because you can’t introduce 20 people in 30 pages and also give them conclusions to their arcs. Or even give them arcs at all. (Based on those proportions I’ve written longer character notes.) The number of scenes goes down, the elements that can be introduced is reduced.
For all this reduction it is important to note that this does not reduce the difficulty of writing the piece, or the meaning it could have in its final draft. Perhaps there are only so many subplots that can be included, and certain complexities are also out of the question. But overall, the level of complexity does not go down.
Significance of details becomes paramount. Much like poetry, in a short story it is ever more important that each word be chosen with care and attention. When I read a novel, there are points at which I stop paying attention to every word and just read as fast as I can. If you rush reading a short story, you might miss it entirely. As such, there are more opportunities to use the more precise parts of language to really make the story snap. Or flow, or jar, or any number of literary descriptions.
I have in fact written short stories before (and even got one published), but this one is special. It’s being written specifically for an anthology which means it has a decent chance of being published. But not a one hundred percent chance, because these people are discerning and if my story turns out terrible they won’t let it in the collection. Fortunately they’re also fantastic critique partners and so if it is bad it can be fixed. Probably.
But still, a form of writing I’m less comfortable with, and higher stakes than usual. I’m a little nervous. Anyone else writing something that makes them nervous? Particularly, short stories?
Reading about it, I liked these articles about the distinctions between short stories and novels.