Saturday, January 31, 2015

Starting With The Basics - 101

If you are itching to write a story don't let me get in the way. Get that story out of your system and clean it up later. However, while appeasing that itch, there are some things to consider. The first is – How long should it be? That depends on the various types of writing. In this, think fiction, but these types apply to non-fiction as well. They just have different names.
  • Vignette
    • This is a short scene focusing on one moment or gives a sharply defined or clear-cut impression about a character, idea, setting, or object. Liken it to taking a photo, say of a friend. It shows them, their emotion, and what they are doing in one second of time.
      • My dog has leaped into a wading pool, rolled around, and now looks at the people laughing at him with a big, panting smile just before shaking.
  • Flash Fiction
    • This typically maxes out around 300 words, but could go up to 1,000 words. Flash Fiction often contains the classic story elements of a protagonist (this will be explained in a later lesson), conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution of the conflict. Because of the limited length, the writer is often forced to only hinted at these elements or imply them.
      • See stories by O. Henry, Aesop's Fables, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, and Ernest Hemingway.
  • Short Story
    • The classic definition of a short story is something that should be read it in one sitting. In today's world that could be a lot shorter than a hundred years ago when life was more leisurely. To put a number on it, the length seems to run from 1,000 to 20,000 words. Here story elements have a bit more space to evolve and be filled out. However, if writing for publication, you will find an upper limitation around 7,500 words.
      • I try to keep the story around 3,000 to 4,000 words, but that is a personal preference allowing for expanding or shrinking to appease the publisher.
  • Novella or Novelette
    • This form is longer than a short story, but shorter than a novel. Because of its length the conflicts are fewer than in a novel, but more complicated than in a short story. Where novels are typically divided into chapters, Novellas often use white space to divide sections.
      • The length recognized by publishers tends to be all over the place as shown in the table below. Generally, the Novella falls somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 words.
Nebula Award for Best Novelette
Science Fiction or Fantasy
17,499 or 39,999
Hugo Award for Best Novelette
Science Fiction or Fantasy
17,500 or 40,000
RITA Award for best novella
British Fantasy Award for Novella
Paris Literary Prize
Literary Fiction
Black Orchid Novella Award
Shirley Jackson Award for best novelette
Psychological suspense, Horror, or Dark Fantasy
7,500 or 17,500
17,499 or 39,999
  1. (abbreviated)
  • Novel
    • This is the most familiar form where the writer can go into great detail to describe characters and events, not necessarily in a sequential format. The length starts around 40K and has been known to top out at 2,100,00 words. (Realistically, 300,000 to 500,000 words catches most of the upper end), while more sane novels run about 100,000 words, but the number can vary according to genre. Each November, the Office of Lights and Letters holds an International challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30-days. This is not a bad length for a first draft. A novel's finished length is entirely up to the writer who choses over what period of time the story covers and how much detail to include.
      • J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series looks like this:
          Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - 76,944 words
          Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - 85,141 words
          Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - 107,253 words
          Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - 190,637 words
          Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - 257,045 words
          Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - 168,923
          Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Approximately 198,227
My writing career has span some 55 years starting in high school (I was telling stories before that, but they usually got me into trouble rather than out.) Upon graduation, I began professional writing as a cub reporter for a metropolitan newspaper. That style is Vignette or Flash writing. The offerings had to be short and concise so not take up valuable ad space. Looking back, that was a great introduction to writing.
From there, I graduated to short stories, crafting that skill over the next 35-years. Publishers, like newspapers, have only so much space, so I became very comfortable writing a story around 3,500 words. The challenge was when requested to cut the word count to 1,500 to 2,000 words, a great game for testing and sharpening skills.
In 2002 I was encouraged to try a novel. Since then I have published ten novels ranging from 70,000 to 100,000 words.
The point is, don't let your writing jump out of the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby. Start small, learn the trade, and let your abilities grow into whatever size you feel necessary to tell your story.