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Ideal Story Length

08 Feb 2020 15:09 #66714 by HikerAngel
Ideal Story Length was created by HikerAngel
I'm just curious what people's perceptions are here about the ideal story length. I write a fair variety as far as that goes. It's difficult for me to have the patience for novel-length (50k+) stuff, though I've done it and will continue to do it. I write a lot of 24-hour time limit flash fiction under 2k words, and I've done mid-length stories of between 5k and 20k words a number of times as well.

I've heard from people here that longer, multi-part stories tend to lose readership over time. I've also heard from people that if stories are too short, they can't really get into them. I was just curious to hear from more people on this.

Shorter stories force the writer to really boil the story into the essential thoughts and ideas, so they tend to be hard hitting, fast reads. Medium length stories allow for more character development and a little more tantalization and tease. Longer stories allow for a bit of meandering and a larger number of character moments and trains of thought but are less focused and require more of a commitment from the reader.

I would love to hear everyone's preferences...

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08 Feb 2020 16:00 #66717 by circes_cup
Replied by circes_cup on topic Ideal Story Length

HikerAngel wrote: I'm just curious what people's perceptions are here about the ideal story length. .... I've heard from people here that longer, multi-part stories tend to lose readership over time. I've also heard from people that if stories are too short, they can't really get into them. I was just curious to hear from more people on this. .


In my view, engineering your story to get the most readers is a recipe for dissappointment.  I think you need to write the story that’s inside you, whatever that is, and then live with the fact that your choice will not be a fit for some readers.  This view assumes, of course, that you are doing this as a hobby and not a career.  I’m the wrong guy to opine on how to do this as a career.

If you are writing a longer story, I find that the best way to break it up for readers is 5,000 words/chapter.  That’s about 20-30 minutes of reading, which is a reasonable chunk of time for someone who is busy and yet allows the story enough time to spin some interesting yarn.  Of course, the flow of the plot itself will govern.   Deep Down Inside, which was less driven by plot, fit very well into 5,000-word chunks.  LPC, which is moe plot-focused, doesn’t always break down into convenient chunks: chapters have turned out to be anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 words.
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08 Feb 2020 17:41 - 08 Feb 2020 17:48 #66720 by shadar
Replied by shadar on topic Ideal Story Length
I've never had much of an interest in contests or writing specially prescribed stories (length, topic, etc), or paid very much attention to the size of my stories. 

But I would surmise that participating in frequent, organized writing contests (ala Writing.com) is very useful to develop flexibility and speed as a writer. That's likely to be very useful if your career is going to rotate around you writing, in one way or another. Flexibility and range and speed and writing a story to an exact size in words are all important in that case.

I also think 10K words per; episode (of a serial) is about as big as you want, and 5K being a reasonable minimum. But other than vignettes, I can't write anything less than 5K. 

In my view, questions about topics and content and length of stories, etc. are very much a function of why you are writing them and where you are sharing them and for whom. Yet for some f us, all those are secondary topics to the main one, which is exploration of a personal passion and the world-building that goes along with that. 

As far as readership falling off with episodes of a serial, that's to be expected. Audience size is less important than audience quality. If a small handful who really enjoy a story make it to the end, then that's great. In reality, I seem to always lose interest in a long serial before some of my readers do, which is another kind of problem. 

Shadar
Last edit: 08 Feb 2020 17:48 by shadar.
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08 Feb 2020 18:42 #66722 by anonxyzus
Replied by anonxyzus on topic Ideal Story Length
If the story is interesting and holds my attention, I'm okay with leaving it at some point and coming back to it later. I got through the first two parts of Embassy Brat in about six reading sessions.

There have been short stories here that were very interesting, held my attention very well, and left me disappointed that they ended so soon.

Kiraling has been tending towards 10k episodes lately. My readership has dropped off, though I supposed that is also due to the long time span I was away from it.
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09 Feb 2020 06:15 #66732 by HikerAngel
Replied by HikerAngel on topic Ideal Story Length
Just to clarify--I didn't really intend this to paint others into a corner regarding story length. This is really for me to understand what people here prefer. I am accustomed to writing in different modes for different story lengths, and I enjoy each mode for different reasons. As a reader, I used to prefer longer work, but I've come to appreciate short stories just as much after reading so many contest entries. At this point, I don't think I have a preference. I like 'em all! :)

I, personally, am motivated by writing for others as much as I am by writing for myself. I love knowing that others will get enjoyment out of what I write. For that reason, I can absolutely enjoy writing things that don't follow my own personal tastes. It's probably also why I toy with alternate versions of stories. I like to please everyone despite the fact that I know that can't always be done.

I know that's not necessarily what motivates others, and that's totally cool. Everyone has their own reason for expression, and, frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way! I'm just trying to understand for my own information, that's all.

I apologize if my original post came across as applying some sort of standard across everyone. I was completely oblivious until I read some of the responses. I really was simply focused on this for my own future stories, that's all. Since I don't really have a preference, I figured I might as well go by the preference of others on story length. :)

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09 Feb 2020 06:41 #66733 by shadar
Replied by shadar on topic Ideal Story Length

HikerAngel wrote: Just to clarify--I didn't really intend this to paint others into a corner regarding story length. This is really for me to understand what people here prefer. I am accustomed to writing in different modes for different story lengths, and I enjoy each mode for different reasons. As a reader, I used to prefer longer work, but I've come to appreciate short stories just as much after reading so many contest entries. At this point, I don't think I have a preference. I like 'em all! :)

I, personally, am motivated by writing for others as much as I am by writing for myself. I love knowing that others will get enjoyment out of what I write. For that reason, I can absolutely enjoy writing things that don't follow my own personal tastes. It's probably also why I toy with alternate versions of stories. I like to please everyone despite the fact that I know that can't always be done.

I know that's not necessarily what motivates others, and that's totally cool. Everyone has their own reason for expression, and, frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way! I'm just trying to understand for my own information, that's all.

I apologize if my original post came across as applying some sort of standard across everyone. I was completely oblivious until I read some of the responses. I really was simply focused on this for my own future stories, that's all. Since I don't really have a preference, I figured I might as well go by the preference of others on story length. :)


Nothing to apologize for... it was a good question. Problem is the wandering answers that many of us (hand raised) tend to provide. Answers that more or less converge on:  "It's complicated.".  <grin>

Shadar
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09 Feb 2020 08:53 #66734 by ChaozCloud
Replied by ChaozCloud on topic Ideal Story Length
As a reader I prefer 10k or more words.
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09 Feb 2020 16:29 #66737 by d_k_c
Replied by d_k_c on topic Ideal Story Length
I prefer A completed story - no matter how long it takes
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10 Feb 2020 22:51 #66748 by HikerAngel
Replied by HikerAngel on topic Ideal Story Length
This thread is making me understand how differently I think of constructing a story, I think, than most here.

I started off on writing.com writing interactive story chapters that don't really have defined endings most of the time and have a max limit of 10,000 characters (not words). I moved into writing contest stories as I explored around the site, and all of them have a maximum length (some also have a minimum). Those were the first stories that I wrote that actually had endings.

As a result, when I construct the idea for a story, I have a word count in mind. It has simply always been a part of how I write a complete story, just like the plot and the characters. Word count is just another part of the story design in my mind. If it's going to be a 2k word story, I will write it differently, use a different number of characters, construct a different sort of plot than I will in a 10k word story. Some of this isn't completely conscious, but it is at least in the back of my mind.

I'm now realizing that this isn't how everyone thinks of a story, which is a bit of an epiphany for me. :)

In my mind:
Novel = meander. Don't worry so much about using up words that don't directly impact the story. Can take a lot of time with character development and plot development.
Novella = still can meander, but must stay on course a bit more than a novel. Character and plot development can still be relatively slow-developing.
10k word story = still a short story, but there is room for a longer or more convoluted plot and more twists and turns. It can use a novel structure still, but there isn't room for a lot of meandering. Thoughts, dialog, character arcs ideally work together to drive the plot.
5k word story = can still setup two major conflicts in the story rather than one to drive the plot. Character development must be fairly focused, but it doesn't need to have the narrow focus that shorter stories do.
2k word story = one conflict to drive the plot and words begin to really be a premium. You don't want to rehash anything that you have already established. Every sentence must add something necessary to the story or it needs to go. Character development must be tied into the plot, and they work best with no more than 3-4 characters. There is time for multiple twists and character arcs. Stories at this length really begin to need to be more finely tuned., however. 
1k word story = one conflict, 2-3 characters work best. Everything written must serve a definite purpose in the story.
500 word story = explores one idea. Character arc and plot must be one and the same, or at least heavily connected. One or two characters works best. Dialog should be minimized as it wastes words in many cases. There is time for one twist and 1-2 major plot points, and that's all.

Poetry >40 lines = Can tell a story. Can include multiple thoughts/images/ideas
Poetry <40 lines = No word used more than once. No image/idea used more than once. Minimalism at its best. :)

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11 Feb 2020 09:00 - 11 Feb 2020 09:03 #66753 by shadar
Replied by shadar on topic Ideal Story Length

HikerAngel wrote: This thread is making me understand how differently I think of constructing a story, I think, than most here.

I started off on writing.com writing interactive story chapters that don't really have defined endings most of the time and have a max limit of 10,000 characters (not words). I moved into writing contest stories as I explored around the site, and all of them have a maximum length (some also have a minimum). Those were the first stories that I wrote that actually had endings.

As a result, when I construct the idea for a story, I have a word count in mind. It has simply always been a part of how I write a complete story, just like the plot and the characters. Word count is just another part of the story design in my mind. If it's going to be a 2k word story, I will write it differently, use a different number of characters, construct a different sort of plot than I will in a 10k word story. Some of this isn't completely conscious, but it is at least in the back of my mind.

I'm now realizing that this isn't how everyone thinks of a story, which is a bit of an epiphany for me. :)

In my mind:
Novel = meander. Don't worry so much about using up words that don't directly impact the story. Can take a lot of time with character development and plot development.
Novella = still can meander, but must stay on course a bit more than a novel. Character and plot development can still be relatively slow-developing.
10k word story = still a short story, but there is room for a longer or more convoluted plot and more twists and turns. It can use a novel structure still, but there isn't room for a lot of meandering. Thoughts, dialog, character arcs ideally work together to drive the plot.
5k word story = can still setup two major conflicts in the story rather than one to drive the plot. Character development must be fairly focused, but it doesn't need to have the narrow focus that shorter stories do.
2k word story = one conflict to drive the plot and words begin to really be a premium. You don't want to rehash anything that you have already established. Every sentence must add something necessary to the story or it needs to go. Character development must be tied into the plot, and they work best with no more than 3-4 characters. There is time for multiple twists and character arcs. Stories at this length really begin to need to be more finely tuned., however. 
1k word story = one conflict, 2-3 characters work best. Everything written must serve a definite purpose in the story.
500 word story = explores one idea. Character arc and plot must be one and the same, or at least heavily connected. One or two characters works best. Dialog should be minimized as it wastes words in many cases. There is time for one twist and 1-2 major plot points, and that's all.

Poetry >40 lines = Can tell a story. Can include multiple thoughts/images/ideas
Poetry <40 lines = No word used more than once. No image/idea used more than once. Minimalism at its best. :)



This seems like a very concise definition of what you can and cannot do based on length, with very different approaches based on the goal. Nice work.

For my part, I like writing novella-sized stories, but also enjoy vignettes, which creates a story that brings a single image to life, and are ideally in the 1k to 2k range. 

For instance, take a picture like this and flesh out the scene and wrap a short story around it. 



Shadar

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Last edit: 11 Feb 2020 09:03 by shadar.
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11 Feb 2020 11:57 #66754 by Woodclaw
Replied by Woodclaw on topic Ideal Story Length

HikerAngel wrote: This thread is making me understand how differently I think of constructing a story, I think, than most here.

I started off on writing.com writing interactive story chapters that don't really have defined endings most of the time and have a max limit of 10,000 characters (not words). I moved into writing contest stories as I explored around the site, and all of them have a maximum length (some also have a minimum). Those were the first stories that I wrote that actually had endings.

As a result, when I construct the idea for a story, I have a word count in mind. It has simply always been a part of how I write a complete story, just like the plot and the characters. Word count is just another part of the story design in my mind. If it's going to be a 2k word story, I will write it differently, use a different number of characters, construct a different sort of plot than I will in a 10k word story. Some of this isn't completely conscious, but it is at least in the back of my mind.

I'm now realizing that this isn't how everyone thinks of a story, which is a bit of an epiphany for me. :)

In my mind:
Novel = meander. Don't worry so much about using up words that don't directly impact the story. Can take a lot of time with character development and plot development.
Novella = still can meander, but must stay on course a bit more than a novel. Character and plot development can still be relatively slow-developing.
10k word story = still a short story, but there is room for a longer or more convoluted plot and more twists and turns. It can use a novel structure still, but there isn't room for a lot of meandering. Thoughts, dialog, character arcs ideally work together to drive the plot.
5k word story = can still setup two major conflicts in the story rather than one to drive the plot. Character development must be fairly focused, but it doesn't need to have the narrow focus that shorter stories do.
2k word story = one conflict to drive the plot and words begin to really be a premium. You don't want to rehash anything that you have already established. Every sentence must add something necessary to the story or it needs to go. Character development must be tied into the plot, and they work best with no more than 3-4 characters. There is time for multiple twists and character arcs. Stories at this length really begin to need to be more finely tuned., however. 
1k word story = one conflict, 2-3 characters work best. Everything written must serve a definite purpose in the story.
500 word story = explores one idea. Character arc and plot must be one and the same, or at least heavily connected. One or two characters works best. Dialog should be minimized as it wastes words in many cases. There is time for one twist and 1-2 major plot points, and that's all.

Poetry >40 lines = Can tell a story. Can include multiple thoughts/images/ideas
Poetry <40 lines = No word used more than once. No image/idea used more than once. Minimalism at its best. :)


Many years ago we had a regular workshop that had an upper-size limit of 1000 or so words, but we dropped it. While some authors enjoyed it a lot, others felt that it was too much of a restriction and couldn't manage to build a proper story.

(formerly Anon, still Librarian)

"What is the point of having free will if one cannot occasionally spit in the eye of destiny?" ("Gentleman" John Marcone)

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12 Feb 2020 00:38 #66766 by HikerAngel
Replied by HikerAngel on topic Ideal Story Length

Woodclaw wrote: Many years ago we had a regular workshop that had an upper-size limit of 1000 or so words, but we dropped it. While some authors enjoyed it a lot, others felt that it was too much of a restriction and couldn't manage to build a proper story.

This story is 281 words. I think it's one of my best.

https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2207906-Our-Father

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12 Feb 2020 00:44 #66767 by HikerAngel
Replied by HikerAngel on topic Ideal Story Length
This one is 686 and includes an action scene and a twist ending.

https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2208065-A-Knights-Tail

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12 Feb 2020 00:47 #66768 by HikerAngel
Replied by HikerAngel on topic Ideal Story Length
This one's 996 words and includes being transported back in time into someone else's body to experience a second character's arc hundreds of years in the past.

https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2211251-The-Filigree-Ring

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12 Feb 2020 00:47 - 12 Feb 2020 01:33 #66769 by HikerAngel
Replied by HikerAngel on topic Ideal Story Length
I think it can be done. :)

(And there are those who can do far more than I in 1,000 words...)

Is this painting "not good" because most of the canvas is blank or is it amazing what they accomplished with what is there? Must every inch of the canvas be filled for it to be "good?"

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That also doesn't mean that longer stories are bad, by any means. They are simply different. But to say that a story under 1,000 words can't be done or can't be good is ludicrous.

I think a contest like that would be fun. I would love to see the entries!

Some of the advantages of the shorter word count are:
* It is less daunting for someone new to enter.
* It's less of a time commitment for an author to devote to it and for a reader to read it.
* It forces the writer to really think about what the story is to accomplish and boil it down to its most essential elements.

The advantages of the longer word count are:
* Gives more latitude for exploration of the story elements, characters, etc.
* Allows for a longer plot and more characters
* Allows for more meandering and ideas that aren't absolutely essential to the story but are interesting or fun

It might be fun to have contests of varying length to gain the benefits of each...
Last edit: 12 Feb 2020 01:33 by HikerAngel.

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