Category Archives: Story Triage

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.

Let Your Genre Pick You

So you’ve got an idea for a story but you’re fretting over what genre or category you’re going to put it in when it’s ready for sale. Or maybe you’re just starting out as a writer and you want to build your platform and marketing base before you write anything…STOP. Don’t worry yourself over literary labels. First, focus on writing your story, THEN worry about marketing and building a platform.

People say that you need to know your genre before you start because you need to know your target audience. (By the way, I totally don’t get the target audience thing…as a writer, my target audience is anyone who can read.) Write the damn story. Don’t worry about if that grumpy guy you work with will finally be impressed or if that chick on the fourth floor of your apartment building will disapprove. Yes, your audience is important but I think it’s total bullshit to try and target some sort of generalized stereotype…especially when you’re just starting out and you want anyone to read your book.

So, I wanted to write a novel in the fantasy genre…but Horror came out?

Story of my life. When I first started writing, I wanted to be a fantasy author- strictly fantasy. I wanted to write about magic, sorcerers, and evil queens. However, all of the ideas I got were dark. Some of them may have seemed like love stories at first, but then they always turned dark. I had no interest in the horror genre and tried to fight it. Don’t do that.

Embrace what comes to you naturally. If you start writing what you intend to be sci-fi but it turns western, go with it. See where it takes you. Cowboys and Aliens, anyone?

Even now, for this year’s NaNoWriMo, I sat down to write what I thought would be a fantasy novel about self-discovery and a rite of passage with a love story intertwined but do you know what happened? It turned completely dark. The fantastical elements are more pronounced and I don’t even think a love story still exists! And I’m fine with that. I’m not going to force the ebb and flow of creativity a certain way (another writer in a Facebook group suggested that we should…because we are writers and therefore gods or something… I don’t know. They spoke about how we’re supposed to control everything. I think they had issues).

Ok. I went with the flow, finished and edited my piece. Now what?

With your short story or novel being completed, it should be much easier to decipher which genre your writing leans towards. Yet, have you seen your Netflix genres lately? There’s action, there’s drama, there’s supernatural horror thriller with science fiction elements and a strong female lead. Wait. What? Yeah. And music has become the same way. No, that’s not rock music, that’s indie adult alternative. When did everything get so complicated?

You’re not going to be subjected to a firing squad if you mark your book as “action” when it’s “suspense.” I can’t say the same for you if you label it as “romance” and it’s really a sport’s almanac. Those romantics can be feisty. But I think I’ve made my point here. What’s most important is to A) not pigeon hole yourself into a specific genre and B) don’t get tied up and concerned with all of the details right away. There is a time and a place for picking a genre and before you write the story, isn’t it. The most important things you can do as a writer are to focus on your story and continuously seek to better your writing. If you produce quality work on a consistent basis, the rest will fall into place.

I hope this helps. Happy writing!

Photo Art © Alexander Ishchenko | 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.

Why You Should Not Serialize Your Novel

When I first started publishing, I decided that I was going to serialize my first project. In hindsight, not only was it not so great of an idea but I also went about it the wrong way.

What is serializing?

Serializing is taking a longer work and breaking it up into smaller pieces. It was more popular back in the days of literary magazines, periodicals and Penny Dreadfuls- back when printing was expensive and the literacy rate was low. Don’t get me wrong, it has been used in more modern times. Stephen King first published The Green Mile in serialized format through a magazine. However, it’s not making as big of a comeback as others may want you to think.

Is serialization making a comeback?

No. I wish it was.

The idea is appealing. In our busy world, shorter snippets are more agreeable than a 200,000-word book. But with the overflow of self-published authors (some are definitely worth their salt- Hocking and Howey to name a couple) there are a lot of budding, talented authors selling their grand novels for the same price as one would set for a serial. This opens a whole can of worms (and I’ve considered doing a series of blog posts dealing with the world of self-publishing. The pricing of e-books. Mistakes that self-published authors make. But I digress.)

Mistakes I Made During the Process

Serialization is a great way to get your name out there but it’s most likely not going to make you much money unless you’ve already got a platform and a fan base. If it’s your first publication- don’t do what I did. Don’t try and serialize when you’re virtually unknown. Why? It makes it look cheap- like you’re out for money. You’re putting three pieces out at .99 c at 15k words each…or you could put the whole project of 45k words out for the same price. In short, the competition is too high among unknown authors to release a bunch of short pieces for the same price as one long piece.

I also made the mistake of publishing the first of three pieces without having the other pieces finished. This is a big no-no. Not that there is a time limit on self-publishing but it’s like submitting your first three chapters to a literary agent and then not having the whole book written. It’s literary suicide. And I committed it…and I’m still here and publishing (so obviously it’s not the end of the world BUT-) Save yourself some grief and don’t put yourself under that kind of stress.

Thirdly, I made the mistake of making my own cover art for the two pieces I ended up publishing. Making your own cover art doesn’t have to be difficult especially when you consider yourself an artsy person and have knowledge of graphic design concepts (something I know now that I didn’t know then). The covers looked like shit. The blurbs were awful because they weren’t for the entire story as a whole.

I mean look at these:

My original self-made covers...
My original self-made covers…

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…I made a huge mistake.

Luckily, I was able to take them down and start fresh. I ended up publishing what became the novella Laszlo as one piece. I got an artist to design the cover art and studied how to write a proper book blurb. Within the first night of these simple changes, I had eight downloads. What a big difference! Yea, yea, eight downloads won’t buy me more than dinner for one day BUT for someone who was completely unknown, with nothing more than a Facebook author profile at the time, I considered that a huge success.

The professionally made cover. Much better.
The professionally made cover. Much better. (First Edition)

So should you serialize?

Ultimately, it’s your life and your decision. However, if you clicked on this blog then you must’ve been curious as to what could be said on the matter. I highly advise against serializing especially when you’re new. Could it be an option for the future? Sure. Why not? Could it be an option if your name is J.K. Rowling or James Patterson? Absolutely. And if you do decide to serialize, please don’t repeat my mistakes. I did the stupid stuff and learned the lesson. Now, I’m teaching you so that you don’t have to.

Happy writing!

Photo Art:

Cover © Teodororoianu | Dreamstime.com

Book 1 © Michele1984 | Dreamstime.com

Book 2 © Lio2012 | 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.