There are so many words for so many lengths of fiction. Which one is best for your story? Which are you best at? Which sells?
I wish I could tell you I have a damn clue. There are drabble and flash fiction contests that will garner you exposure, but you probably can't sell them to anyone. A lot of publishers won't accept short stories or novellas, but others release a number of anthologies each year containing these. And the definition of a novella versus a novel changes depending on who you talk to.
Personally, I have
What I am able to write easily is a short story. I like plopping down in the middle of a character's life and trying to figure out what's going on. Short stories are vignettes, little glimpses, a brief glance across a room at a complete stranger.
While stand-alone short stories are usually the business of literary journals or magazines, collections of short stories by a single author are becoming more popular. One of the most talked-about recent releases is Tenth of December by George Saunders, which is currently a New York Times bestseller. Dear Life by Alice Munro and This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz were on many Best of 2012 lists.
Last weekend, I went to the Southern Voices Festival at the Hoover Public Library, and one of the speakers was Ron Rash, who has published both short story collections and novels. His new collection, Nothing Gold Can Stay, was just released.
He is an entertaining and inspiring speaker, and the entire time he spoke, I was itching to ask him one question. Which did he like writing more: novels or short stories? He graciously answered my question during the book signing. I'd paraphrase what I remember, but instead I'll quote from an interview published this week:
You write poetry, novels, and short stories. How does your approach differ when writing in each form? Does one come more easily than another?
They’re all radically different. I think writing a poem is like being a greyhound. Writing a novel is like being a mule. You go up one long row, then down another, and try not to look up too often to see how far you still have to go. Short fiction is the medium I love the most, because it requires that I bring everything I’ve learned about poetry—the concision, the ability to say something as vividly as possible—but also the ability to create a narrative that, though lacking a novel’s length, satisfies the reader. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is as perfect as any story I know.
When I told Mr. Rash that I had trouble writing more than 45K words, he suggested that maybe I'm a short story writer. If I could write stories 1% as great as his, I'd be a happy camper.
In the end, an author will find their happy place, the word count at which their stories naturally end. You can cajole and pad, but you -- and the reader -- will know that the story has too much fat. When you find that happy place, you and your writing will be the better for it.
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