How Long Should That Story Be?

This question pops up fairly regularly on the writing forums: How do you know whether something should be a novel or a short story?  Or a novella?  Or a flash fiction piece?

And I think the answer is really–what do you want to write?

For me, when I start writing a story idea, I generally have a good feel for whether I’m writing a short story or a novel.  And I then write to that particular form.

Every character has an entire life they live.  And the people around them have entire lives.  Where you start the story and where you stop it and how wide you are in describing that world or time is completely in your control.

So, depending on who you focus on and how much of their story you tell, any idea can result in a story of any length.

Today I wrote a 230-word flash fiction piece.  It could’ve been longer, but I just wanted to write about a thought this child has.  So, I wrote a flash piece.

I could’ve just as easily used that initial thought to flesh out a day in this child’s life (a short story) or to have this be the start of some journey the child has that involves a huge cast of characters (a novel or even a trilogy).

Every story has the seed to be whatever you want to make it.

There was a story that DSF published last week–“Dark, Beautiful Force” by Jessica May Lin.  (I’d link to it but it’s not up yet)  It was the tragic love story of a pair of superheros.  It was good and I liked it.

The author chose to write the story in 1,200 words.  I read it and thought it was a great outline for a novel.

That’s the beauty of writing, though.  The author gets to choose what to include and exclude, what level of detail to provide, whether to dig into the emotions of each character or not, to focus on one moment or multiple generations.  It’s all up to you.  Whatever you want to do.

So, that story?  It should be as long as you want to make it.

(Granted, when you’re done writing what you want, certain formats or ways of telling the story are going to sell better than others, so you can write whatever you want at whatever level of detail you want.  But, when it comes time to sell that to someone else, you’ll see more success with certain lengths and styles than with others.)

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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