Set aside everything you’ve heard about fiction writing, and think with me for a moment of the story itself. An idea has lit in your noggin with a general plot and certain set of characters. You’ve turned it over and over until you know it has to be.
Okay. Stop there. Don’t move another muscle, and notice my choice of words. IT HAS TO BE.
Not, you could write it. Not, it will sell. Not, your readers might enjoy it. But instead, the simple fact that that story has to come into existence.
The first key to writing fiction is your motive. The best stories are always the ones that beg to exist. You think of them when you’re lying in bed. You examine them when you’re doing housework. You’re distracted by them as you drive around town, sit in church, or attend work functions. They decide what the characters do, how the plot line churns. They create chapter endings, prologues, and epilogues. They, in some sense, write themselves, and they push you forward.
They also decide how long they’ll ultimately become.
Throw out your ideas about word counts for a second. Don’t conjecture on what the story is for – a publisher, an anthology, a single short story, an ebook, the printed page, a newspaper or magazine. Instead, think strictly of the story itself, and ask yourself, “What length makes this tale its very best?”
I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum. Stories that were too long because the author was filling their word count, and stories that were too short because the author didn’t take the time to think them through. The fact is some stories simply will be short, and some simply will be long.
I’ve read novels with hundreds of thousands of words that truthfully, had to be that length. I’ve read short stories of only ten thousand words that had no need to be longer. In both cases, the author did what was best for the story itself.
Let the story decide when enough is enough.
If your heroine has problems with indecision, don’t drag it out page after page after page. In the end, you repeat yourself and bore your reader. You also run the risk of taking the character from loveable to the edge of dislike. And a character that’s disliked will ruin everything.
“But I want to make this a print book and it’s too short.”
Who says? If you want it in print, then put it in print. There’s no hard and fast rule that says people will not buy a printed story of 40,000 words. Actually, there’s a reader for every length of story. Some people prefer huge books (like me). Others prefer shorter tales. Some like collections of stories. What will sell the story is good writing, not if it fits into a certain genre.
My upcoming book, Love & Redemption, is technically Christian/Historical Fiction/Romance. But if you ask me what book it’s like, I’d have to say, “None.” My writing style leans itself to something more contemporary, to dialogue and feelings that do not fit into the typical Historical Fiction/Romance mold.
Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not.
Maybe you write Fantasy. I’ll tell you up front I dislike fantasy. I don’t understand the need to create worlds and kingdoms. Typically, I read it and it bores me to tears. Yet there are people who write the most amazing fantasy stories, stories that capture the imagination and take you somewhere. What worked for them, what made their story its very best, was the author let the story write itself.
Common advice for writing your first draft always says, “Just write, and edit later.” Being a proofreader for a living, I never understood this from the mentality of leaving in the mistakes. Personally, I cannot write that way because the mistakes will needle at me and I won’t be able to continue. However, from the standpoint of not counting words, I totally get it.
If I come to the end of a tale, I re-read it and have nothing else to add to enhance the story, if I then find it’s really too short for one genre or another, do you know what I do? I stop. Period. That story, once edited, will stand at its best and be exactly what I want it to be. That is far more important to me as a writer than following the rules.
Rules serve a purpose, yes. But rules can also put you in a box that only damages what would have been so much greater. So sit down at your computer and just write. Tell the story as it came into your head. Examine it along the way. Edit it faithfully. And allow it to conclude exactly when it is supposed to and not one word longer.
Then you the writer will be known for your excellent writing, instead of the number of books.
Suzanne D. Williams is a native Floridian, wife, mother, photographer, and writer. She is author of both nonfiction and fiction books. She writes a monthly column for Steves-Digicams.com on the subject of digital photography, as well as devotionals and instructional articles for various blogs. She also does graphic design for self-publishing authors.
5-Stars! Only 99 Cents until Valentine’s Day
Prepublication Review: “I love this story!” “Okay let me stop here and say I think Tim should be about 40-something and married to me.”
Seventeen-year-old Taylor Lawton has a crush on Timothy Cooper, a boy at her school, and as crushes go, things are normal. He ignores her. She doesn’t speak to him. Until their English teacher, Mrs. Walker puts them on a project together. A turn of fate then throws them both for a loop. For an entire week, they will stay beneath the same roof. Will this be too much togetherness? What will Taylor do with Timothy’s painful secret?
A light novella with a touching storyline, this tale is enjoyable for both young adults and grown-ups alike.