After working on novels for quite a while now, I found myself surprised by a the desire to write a new SF short.
It got me thinking about the size of stories. Size is always an issue. For novels shorter is better for a first novel – some say even as low as 55k, but mostly in the 60-90k range. For a first novel 120k is a big. It seems you need to graduate to the fat fantasy epics after a few punchy (hopefully award-winning) shorter novels. Of course there are always exceptions – look at the Name of the Wind (Rothfuss) or the Eragon books. Those are big, big books.
My own experience with short stories has been that they seem to find their own shape and size. Mind you, if you need to write a shorter work, it helps to begin with that in mind. I find if I aim to write a 2k piece, it helps to focus and sharpen my ideas. It’s like the ‘story supplier’ back there in the subconscious takes a look at the box it needs to go in, scratches its head and shoves in what it can. That said, this helps me a bit – but there is not getting away from my natural tendency to bloat up the word count. It seems if I just look at something sideways words appear. I go in to edit, diligently remove 500 words then add 2000 fixing some other problem.
Still, if I aim for 2k, I will end up with a tight 3k, with the storyline appropriately focussed.
Mind you, I find starting with a word length against my natural process. I like to go on the whiff of an idea – to let it all unfold as it will. Usually it revolves around one core idea and the feeling of one or two key characters and everything sort of unwinds from there. I often end up with the ‘on the nose’ length of 6-7000 words, which has to ring bells and play an accordion to get an editor to take it over two or three shorter pieces. And don’t even get me started on my supremely unsaleable novellas. Hey. Most things see the light of day eventually – just a matter of being in the right place at the right time – waiting for an anthology with the right theme to come along.
So do you start with a specific word length in mind for shorts? How about for novels? Or do you walk the risky path of letting it develop how it will?