Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Short Story Length

I'm sure this question has been asked many times before in the blogoshere, but here goes. How long do you like your short stories? In the guidelines over at BEAT to a PULP, we say no more than 4000 words, though we have stretched that a few times. As a writer, I prefer the 5000-6000 range for plot and character development. On the other hand, as a reader, if I pick up an anthology of shorts, I will read the 1500-3000 yarns first and gradually get around to the others.

Your thoughts?

27 comments:

Scott Parker said...

The immediate non-answer is "how ever long the story needs to be." That's a cop-out, I know. But some stories need more time and other can be blown through without any extra flab. Five grand seems about right. Enough time to set up a story, have some action, and a resolution. Sometimes, I have to admit that shorter stories seem too short for me. Dunno. Them be my thoughts.

Richard Prosch said...

Like you, I read the shorter stories first. Still, that doesn't always make them the best stories. Online, I rarely read stuff that's over 5,000 words because a) I'm not going to stare at the screen that long, or b) I'm not going to print it out if it's much longer.

Chris said...

Between 5K and 6K seems to be what works best for me. Getting them down to 4K is a real struggle. That Pickle story I sent you started at 6, but was better at 4. The other one I sent you started at 6, and lost its oomph when it was carved down, I thought.

As for reading, if it's a print anthology I start at the front and read to the back, I don't skip around. Online, I'll scroll to see how long it looks, and if time allows I'll read it. If I don't have time, I'll bookmark it and (hopefully) come back to it.

Chad said...

Like you, the short ones get read first whenever I pick up an anthology.

It really depends on the story and how well it's working, I think.

Though I loathe short fiction that starts to hit the 40 page mark. Most of it is unnecessarily long.

Kieran Shea said...

I'm going to chip in from the short grass and say online, mmm, about 4-5K. The eyes get tuckered out. Just read a novel on the computer and it was a real struggle. Then againm doesn't Barth's "Frame-Tale" from LOST IN THE FUNHOUSE hold the record for brevity?

David Cranmer said...

Scott, I have read six thousand yarns that were so good they seemed like two thousand. But my preference would dance 'round four.

Richard, It does become a chore and a strain on the bulbs doesn't it?

Chris, We are simpatico about time constraints. If its lengthy it gets a bookmark and I catch up on the weekend. But I've never read an anthology from beginning to end.

Chad, Yeah, at the 40 its time to think about a novella or full length book but don't be trying to pass it off as a short story.

Kieran, If you agree with Barth's assertion that storytelling needs to be regenerated, then you might want to check out Ed Gorman's blog today where he mentions the opinion of one David Shields.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I don't typically read much in the short story genre. I like a good meaty book. That said, I think it takes great talent to do a short story well--to absorb the reader in so few words. And leave them satisfied.

David Cranmer said...

Alyssa, I submit to you (I sound like a lawyer:) that a short story, done well, has all the meat and trimmings you could ask for and is comparable to a novel. Two examples I've published at BEAT to a PULP are "The Instrument of Their Desire" by Patricia Abbott and Hilary Davidson's "Insatiable." I also have an Elizabeth Zelvin piece coming up in a few weeks that's a true knockout and contains the depth you are talking about.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Oh I believe you, David. I simply meant that I like a good book to last for a little while--I like to savor it.

David Cranmer said...

I undersand. But here's some more blatant promotion coming your way. I have an anthology of 27 of THE GREATEST short stories coming out within a few months that will change your life. You will have to get it! It's called BEAT to a PULP: ROUND 1.

John Popkin said...

I've always enjoyed the work of O Henry and Ray Bradbury when it comes to short stories.

David Cranmer said...

O Henry is the writer who got me interested in short stories with one titled "After Twenty Years." The 100th anniversary of his passing is coming up shortly.

Charles Gramlich said...

Genre makes a huge difference for me. I like a lot of fantasy and SF stories between 5 and 7 thousand words, because of the need to develop the world. But I typicaly prefer my horror and noir stories to be shorter, 2 to 4 thousand or so. In the last few years I've really begun to enjoy a lot of flash fiction of less than 500 words.

G said...

I think about 5K is right. Only a few of more stories go beyond 20 pages, and the bulk of the shorts I wrote probably squeeze in at 3500-4000 (I'm guessing because I never bothered with a word count, just a page count cap of 5).

The only sub 2K story that I wrote was the one I submitted to you, and that clocked in at exactly 1500.

Personally, I don't mind longer short stories. I like reading them and I like writing them.

Serialization can be a fun thing to do if you got the patience for it.

David Cranmer said...

Charles, As you move toward flash, I've been moving away. That's where I started, for the most part, but I think there's just too much half baked prose out there. I dig it when its good though.

G, On the net I've come to discover length is deadly. Our most successful stories at BTAP (in terms of unique visitors) have been less then 3,000. People just don't care to scan down and down on a screen. I've actually had a couple nice but pointed e-mails telling me the stories were becoming to wordy.

David Cranmer said...

PS G, You have your computer up and running again?

Sarah Laurence said...

I'm going to agree with a lot of the comments above. It's not so much the length of the story itself, but how well the story fits the length. In general, shorter is probably better if it's in a collection, but one of my favorite short stories ever is Melville's Bartleby which was long enough to be a novela. Sorry, that was probably a bit of a non-answer!

BTW, I think you would love The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron it has a real classic feel to it, plenty of suspense and noir moments, tough guy characters, babes in the woods and terrific writing. I only mentioned it today but reviewed it 2 weeks ago.

David Cranmer said...

The Poacher's Son by Paul Doiron has been added to my shopping cart at Amazon. It may be a few months before I read it but I will be looking forward to it. Thanks.

Yes, a good story is a good story regardless of length. But I am noticing at my zine shorter stories almost always do better in terms of page views. Of course, that won't stop me from publishing longer pieces but it does make me stop and do the old proverbial head scratch.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Well, if it'll change my life, I'll have to get it. Maybe I'll start wearing Faded Glory too!

David Cranmer said...

:)

G said...

Yup.

Back up and running. Blown router was what the grief was all about. Would go in greater detail, but suffice to say that the IT guys really hate AT&T for not doing their job properly and making people spend money needlessly.

Interesting that people would send you e-mails complaining about story length. I do agree about length being deadly, as I'm trying to work on that for my blog. I've found that I can generate more comments with shorter posts (go figure) than with longer ones.

I guess people don't like to spend an abnormal amount of time readin on the 'net.

David Cranmer said...

G, Guess what? My laptop's screen just went bye bye.

G said...

Now that really bites. :(

David Cranmer said...

It may be an easy fix. Guess there is a LCD backlight bulb that burnt out. But it will require taking it to Best Buy Geek Squuad.

Michael Hemmingson said...

I try to keep my stories under 5K words, but most clock in at 3-4K, which is how I like to read them as well.

David Cranmer said...

3-4K is ideal to me as well and what readers seem to prefer with online stories.

Ryan S. said...

Reading them online I like 3000 words or less. Reading in print I'll do 6000 unless it's Stephen King, who apparently cannot write anything shorter than 20k. Writing, I shoot for around 3000. But, I also have to agree that the story will be as long as it wants to be, so I go with the flow and if I decide to try and publish it, I'll look for fat to trim.