Story? Novella? Novel? What Am I Writing?

This past week, I worked quite a bit on a short story — a young adult paranormal about a shape shifter. I really got into it, and the ideas and words and excitement just spilled out on the page.

At some point, however, I realized  was dangerously close to 15,000 words — which was, as I’d seen, the outer limit of short stories. Indeed, short stories are often preferably less than 10,000 words. Yet, the story wasn’t done! The characters were still going. So I kept writing.

While I finally typed THE END, I scanned for word count again and realized this.

Facebook status update

Oops! So I started researching exactly what I’d written. Here’s a general summary of word counts I found:

100 to 1,000 words

You’ve written flash fiction. Flash fiction is a particularly good way to warm up the writing juices. English teachers often use flash fiction by providing a story prompt for their students as a classroom exercise. Writers can also run an Internet search for flash fiction and find plenty of prompts. Flash fiction tends to be a single scene or two, a teaser for a larger story, and/or a mood piece.

1,000 to 10,000 words

For the most part, this is a short story. There’s some debate about where that outer limit is drawn, and you can find anything from 7,500 to 15,000 words as the maximum for a short story. Short stories usually follow a single plot and don’t delve into subplots; there just isn’t time and space for that layering. Shorts are great at honing in on a specific storyline.

10,000 to 20,000 words

I prefer Emma Burcart‘s response to my Facebook status update and want to call this a novelita! But my research finally turned up the term novelette. (I suppose the difference is whether you want Spanish or French to have a say in the suffix.) Acknowledging this rare category, my “short story” actually fell into this camp. Why write a novelette? I don’t know generally because I see so few of them, but in my case there were two plots, even though they substantially interwove, and I needed more time on the page to resolve both of them.

20,000 to 40,000 words

Welcome to the novella, a story length that has been enjoying quite a bit of success in the ebook world. Novellas are long enough to have more than one layer, even follow multiple characters, and tell a pretty substantial story. But they’re also quick reads, which is quite appealing to many people in our fast-paced world. Novellas weren’t that practical as a story length when printing costs and bookstore shelf space were restrictive, but ebooks require less upfront cost, making shorter length fiction more viable. When all was said and done — that is, when I revisited a scene and beefed it up — my “short story” became a novella, its first draft currently coming in at 21,600 words.

40,000 and up

We’ve finally arrived at a novel. Of course, different genres call for different lengths. For instance, you won’t find much in the way of adult fantasy at 40,000 words, but that’s a great length for a middle-grade read. Epic novels are much longer, maybe 110,000 words or more, while cozy mysteries will be far closer to maybe the 60,000-word mark. To get specifics, you can search “word count by genre” and find plenty of resources on that question.

Of course, there are always rule-breakers. Like Margaret Mitchell writing Gone with the Wind at over 410,000 words and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea at only 26,600 words.

And where a story falls within these word counts can also depend on how the publisher wants to market. For instance, a middle-grade book that’s 30,000 words isn’t going to be called a novella, period. Because for a fourth grader, that is a novel, and he sure isn’t going to refer to his book as a “novella.”

Whatever I just wrote — short story, novelette, novella — I’m not sure the reader really cares. The reader simply wants to be swept up in a great story that compels them to turn the pages and savor the tale.

So whether I hack away at my shape shifter story and return it back to its novelette or even short story length, or keep it solidly in novella territory, what matters is: Did I write a wonderful story?

And that’s not so easy to pin down until I get it into the hands of readers.

ROW80 Update

Now let me pin down my writing progress for this past week. I participate in A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge that knows you have a life, and here are my goals for the round:

1. Read 12 books. Read #10, The Up Side of Down by Megan McArdle (nonfiction). Just two more books to meet my goal. Doing well here.

2. Complete two drafts of short stories. One draft done, and the other halfway done. I’ll be working on it next week. Made progress.

3. Take care of ROW80 sponsor responsibilities. Checked in for Sunday and Wednesday updates and heard lots of good stuff! Of course, life sometimes still gets in the way of our goals, but we’re making progress. Done.

4. Edit at least once through Good & Guilty, young adult mystery. Not this week. I focused on my short story/novella. Nope.

Bonus. I entered my opening chapters of Sharing Hunter, a young adult contemporary novel, in two RWA chapter contests. Since contest participation is a goal of mine for the year, I felt pretty good about finally pressing SEND on my entries and entering the contests. This is my first shot at writing contests, so we’ll see what kind of feedback I get.

What length of story do you like to read and/or write? Do you care what label a story is given? And how was your week?

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My 25,000-word Week: #ROW80

25,000 words!!!

Seriously, did you read that title? It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? I am pinching myself. Ouch.

I am HIGHLY MOTIVATED to complete the first draft of this young adult novel. On top of that, I’ve had a short story idea kicking around for a while, for which I’d written a couple of chapters. The rest of the plot came to me, and I finished that first draft by writing 4,488 words on it this week. Along with the 21,199 words on the YA project, I managed to write 25,687 words from Sunday through Friday.

I’m taking the weekend off.

I’d love to share how I managed to accomplish this astounding goal, but I wouldn’t recommend this pace as the usual. What had to give?

  • My house is a bunch of clutter and dirt. I just found my son’s report card from last week on my desk. I had signed it but forgotten to return it to him to take to school. Who knows what else is sitting around here that has fallen through the cracks?
  • I missed two of my older son’s baseball games that I would have normally attended. *sigh*
  • I sat at a coffee shop/restaurant two days for several hours tapping out words and spending money on food and drinks to keep me going.
  • My husband haven’t had much time to spend together.
  • I’ve been a little on the cranky side by evening.
  • I’ve tried to check in on the blogosphere when I can, but I currently have 81 blog posts in my RSS feed to get through. If I haven’t visited you, I’m sorry.
  • I haven’t tweeted or Facebooked much at all.
  • I am way behind already in the Tiffany Lawson-Inman course on YA writing which started just over a week ago.
  • My personal reading has taken a steep dive. And I miss it.

However, I have only a few chapters left before I can declare SHARING HUNTER, First Draft, to be officially done. So I’m excited about that!

Here’s the rest of my ROW80 report:

  • Log 5,000 words per week on young adult novel, SHARING HUNTER. This should result in a completed first draft. 25,687. Oh my gosh.
  • If first draft is finished, edit once through SHARING HUNTER. Waiting on #1.
  • Work on pitch and synopsis for DFW Writers’ Conference (taking place May 19-20). MUST DO THIS WEEK.
  • If I get all of that done, edit through THE YEAR OF FIRSTS, my middle grade novel which is in second draft form and has been gathering dust for a few months. Waiting on 3 tasks above.
  • Read one writing craft book. My choice this round is Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Took a break from this goal until after the DFW Writers’ Conference.
  • Read through March/April issue of The Writer’s Digest. Why can’t I get to this goal?!
  • Take course from Tiffany Inman Lawson on 77 Secrets to Writing YA Fiction that Sells from the Margie Lawson Writers Academy. Catching up on first assignment and then onto the second lecture.
  • Read 10 books keeping to my At-Least-3 Reading Challenge for 2012. On track. I have read four books so far: The Killer Inside Me; Getting Rid of Bradley; Graceling; and The Man Who Was Thursday. I have started THE HEART-SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill, which has me shivering at times already. Gee thanks, Catie, for that recommendation. 😉
  • Post ROW80 updates on Sundays. Done.
  • Exercise three times a week — length of time to be determined. Thanks to an extra class, I went to Zumba three times last week, so I met this goal.

I’m exhausted just reading this post. I think I need to go sleep.

How are y’all doing with your ROW80 goals? Encourage and inspire my fellow ROW writers HERE.