We’ll be announcing our flash-fiction contest winners in the next few days. I know, we originally planned to give ourselves a month. But we got through them more quickly than expected, and I gotta say, we were quite pleased with the quality of the submissions.
Anyhow, the whole thing got me wondering about story length. Flash fiction (or micro fiction, as it is also called), is a particular beast, because it requires the author to edit out all but the barest details, and yet to provide a complete picture with those few words. One of my favorite micro fiction pieces for both length and emotion:
For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.
According to Wikipedia, it’s often attributed to Ernest Hemingway. But look at how much of a story is told with those six words.
By contrast, short stories allow the writer a bit more elbow room, but still must be carefully pruned to get maximum impact out of the short space. These are often best for telling stories more limited in time-scale then novels. It’s hard to flesh out an entire relationship in 10,000 words, although it can be done.
Then we have novellas, which allow writers to branch out a bit without committing to an entire novel. Although I’ve written a few of these, I prefer the novel-length as a reader. If I really like a story or world, I want more of it, not less.
Next come the novels themselves. where a writer can really go hog-wild with scenery and characterization and plot. But even here, it’s necessary to keep things moving along. Just because you have the capability to wander doesn’t mean you should use it. I still remember one of the Clan of the Cave Bear novels where the author, Jean M. Auel, took a full thirty pages at the start of the book to display her research and knowledge of native plants in the prehistoric era. You gotta edit, people.
Finally, there’s the series – multiple book epics that are sometimes self-contained stories strung together, and sometimes an arc that spans multiple books. These offer the author the ultimate playground – a place to go back to again and again to explore new parts of the world they created.
So my questions today – as writers, what length(s) of fiction do you like to write, and why? And readers, coming from the other side, do you have a preferred story length/type? And why?