What is the right shape for your story? Jay Lake has talked before about idea scaling – the appropriate shape and size for the story – along the following lines:
- one key twist to an idea – flash
- one fully fleshed out new idea, one POV – short story
- one idea, fully fleshed out with a twist, possibly a second perspective – novelette or novella
- one main idea, several threaded story lines, multiple perspectives – novel
It’s a discussion we had at last year’s Paradise Lost writers’ retreat. As I’m getting ready to go for this year, I’ve been looking over my notes. His point was that sometimes, what’s not working with your story is that you are trying to stretch or jam your story into the wrong size. Understanding what each size requires or allows, in terms of structure, can help unstick you.
This is something I really struggle with. For whatever reason, I’ve written 4 or 5 stories that finish at 8,000-9,000 words. For a practical length, this is the worst. Most short story markets are looking for something between 5K and 6K words (with a few going higher); but it’s really too short to be a novelette, which is usually 8K-15K words. I’ve been taking a look at them to try to figure out if I need to expand or pare down, and the answer may be different for each story. Regardless, this is not something that I have mastered yet, obviously.