How Short is Too Short?

It all began last summer.  I had spent the previous months attempting to write my novel, The Five Staffs of Meledari.  The project was in utter disrepair.  While I had written about 40,000 words – I found I had no where to go.  My character arcs had timed out too soon, the project lost focus and my determination was waning.

So, I said to myself, let’s just take a break.  Try out short stories.  It was really something I hadn’t tried in at least six years.  The idea promised to offer me a refreshing change from writing the same characters every week.

And it has been such a joyous ride.  I went from struggling to cut my stories down to under 7,500 words, to where I am today – often writing stories at 1,500 words and wondering how on earth to make them longer.

I have learned a lot in the past nine or ten months.  Writing story after story, creating character after character, has really honed my skills.  It has taught me how to show and not tell.  How to make vague references to a character’s past without making a huge info dump.

And as I’ve gone along, I have sought new challenges.  Where at first I wrote short stories and found that a difficult task, I then moved on to flash fiction (under 1,000 words) and reveled in the joy of the attempt.  Now I’m narrowing the scope further – my latest work made it in at only 84 words.  I’ve considered and been challenged to write a story in under 50, and one co-worker even suggested I give an attempt at the 10-word story.

So I’m wondering – how short is too short?  My 84-word piece comes off feeling almost like poetry, I’ve been told.  Is there anything wrong with that?

I hope not.  I think long and short stories have their proper places.  Writing a story with such a limited amount of words is challenging, entertaining and, in the end, thrilling.  I wonder how an artist would feel if you took away all of their paint but a few tiny smudges – and challenged them to create a painting with it.  Art, like fictional pieces, tells a story.  A good artist doesn’t need much ‘paint’ to do it.

My only concern with my current obsession with flash fiction is that I am losing my ability to write longer pieces.  As I mentioned above, I sometimes get to the 1,500 or 2,500 mark and think…crap, what do I write now?  I normally am a very verbose writer.  In college, my papers were always three or four pages over our page limit (lucky my professors didn’t mind).

Recently I’ve ground that verbose edge out of my writing personality.  And I hope that this is a good thing.  Maybe it’s because I’ve learned to use less words to create a more powerful impact.  I dearly hope this is the case.  I would like to attempt a longer work sometime in the near future, if only to keep from getting stuck in a rut.

Who knows, maybe I move in cycles.  Maybe soon I will tire of flash fiction and feel the desire to attempt a novel again.  No one can say for certain – but I look forward to finding out.

So how about you – how long do your stories usually end up? Is that number longer or shorter than you want it to be? How short is too short?  Or is there such a thing?



2 thoughts on “How Short is Too Short?

  1. I read your flash fiction over on Facebook. Followed that with a look at your Info page. One link there sent me here. And now look, I’m commenting here. I’m not a creeper. I’m a reader!

    Anyway, I’d still love to read your Meledari story! If you ever get back to writing it just let me know (ha, unless my previous comments on it made you absolutely hate me reading it!).

    My stories, by the way, tend to be around 20,000 or 30,000. I’d like them to be longer, too, but I don’t like to go back and fix them (most of the time) once I finished the second draft. And I don’t think there is a “too short”. If you get your story across then length doesn’t matter (well, to non-publishers, that is).

    Finally, to go from short to long stories how about this: write five or six really short stories about the same character all taking place on the same day. Five hundred words for breakfast, a thousand for the car ride to work, seven hundred more for just the elevator ride up, and so on. Each one should be self-contained and complete, yet they all tie together.

  2. Yay, you found me, Russell! 🙂

    How many stories have you finished at that length? My latest complete work of any length was my story which I wrote for my young siblings. It came out at 31,000 words. I would write a chapter every week and mail it to them. Knowing they were waiting on it really helped me stay motivated enough to finish it!

    I would love to write or continue to write my Meledari story, but I’m not sure I can. I have tried to sit down and write it a couple more times. Maybe a little more time.

    I love the idea about how to transition to longer works! I will definitely have to try that. 🙂

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