The Story Determines Its Own Length

Some writers will tear their hair out over story length. I was sitting in my One-Act Play class during junior year of college discussing the instructions on writing a paper with my classmates. I don’t recall what the paper was about but I remember our professor telling us it needed to be double-spaced, 12 pt font, Times News Roman, and all that jazz. She also told us about all of the points we needed to cover but one thing she didn’t address was the length of the paper.

Normally, teachers and professors will tell you that your paper needs to be one page, or three to five paragraphs, or fourteen pages single-spaced. They always dictate some sort of length. I wasn’t alone. Everyone else in the class was a little perplexed because we’re so used to being told how long something needs to be. So we asked the professor how long she wanted our essays to be?

She said, “Just answer the questions.”

Our minds were blown. Just answer the questions? That had never been told to us before. Even though I did not particularly care for this professor, she taught me a very valuable lesson in that moment. When it comes to writing stories and trying to write novels, so many people are bound and determined to reach that 60,000-word goal or that 80,000-word goal and certain stories aren’t meant to be that long.

When I wrote Laszlo, it ended up being about 40,000 words. I felt like that length allowed me to tell the story. But often people who don’t write ask me, “why didn’t you throw in an extra 10,000 words?” “You came this far. Just make it a novel!” “Why don’t you beef it up?” They are very annoying questions to answer. Non-writers don’t understand and no amount of explaining seems to help them.

Certain stories have a certain length. That’s just the way it is.

If a story was only meant to be 2,000 words, then beefing it up to be a 50,000-word novel (by putting a bunch of random crap in there) weakens it. “More” doesn’t always mean “better.” Turning a short story into a novel could turn a brilliant tale into a pile of drivel. On the other hand, taking a story that should be fleshed out to 100,000 words and only writing 30,000 doesn’t let the story really express itself. I know that to non-writers that sounds like a stupid statement. But it’s true. The only thing a story really has to do it tell

The only thing a story really has to do it tell its tale. Period. It doesn’t have to make you laugh. It doesn’t have to make you cry. And it doesn’t have to make you think, feel or care. In some cases, stories don’t even make sense. I’ve read short stories that ended abruptly and seemed to have no point. I’ve watched long movies that ended on odd notes and left me confused and unsatisfied. Perhaps it wasn’t as long as it should have been? Or perhaps it would have been stronger if it were more concise? Forcing a story into a mold that it doesn’t fit only makes matters worse. Let the story determine it’s own length. You’ll know when to stop adding brush strokes to the painting.

So the bottom line is, don’t fret if that story that you wanted to be 20,000 words ends up being 60,000 words or if the story you wanted to be 50,000 words ends up being 10,000. Never fear.

Happy Writing!

Photo Art: © Weerapat Wattanapichayakul | Dreamstime.com

Regina Bethory is a fiction author. She graduated from Christopher Newport University with a Bachelor’s in Directing and Play Writing and from Newport News Shipbuilding’s Apprentice School as a Test Electrician. She also has a degree in Funeral Services. As an avid minimalist and traveler, she enjoys spending her time learning new things, seeking new experiences and de-cluttering. When she is not writing, she can often be found in comic book stores and early morning matinees.

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