The length of stories

I first seriously started writing in 2008. I’d just learned about NaNoWriMo and has just read The Lord of the Rings, so I wanted to write a huge, sprawling epic. That November, I started writing a novel, Runes, that ended up being 168,305 words. It’s the longest thing I’ve ever written. I guess I succeeded.

I think a lot of writers want this: a huge magnum opus that they can be proud of. But not all stories are meant to be long. Runes was, in my opinion, a fluke: the second-longest novel I’ve wrote (the initial draft of The Book of Immortality) only clocks in at 100k words. The final version of The Book of Immortality, the one that I posted here on this website, is 75k words. That’s a much more normal length for one of my novels.

So where did those 25k words go? Well, they were padding, so I removed them during editing. And why was that padding there in the first place? Well, that’s because the bulk of my writing used to happen during NaNoWriMo. For better or worse, NaNoWriMo really encourages padding out your writing. Other novels I’ve edited (that were written during NaNoWriMo) have also had quite a lot of words removed. One novel went from around 50k to 30k.

Even if you want a story to be long, a lot of the time, the content just isn’t there. That’s something I really realized about five years ago. Some stories are better off at a shorter length. There’s no shame in writing novellas, novelettes, or short stories instead of novels.

Sometimes I think that National Novel Writing Month being such a major part in my taking writing seriously hindered my ability to understand and accept that.

I think I’d like to work on a few shorter (less than novel-length) stories in the next few years. I’ve written a few novella-length works in the past, and I can definitely do so in the future. Short stories…maybe not so much. Every time I try to write a short story, it’s either barely over 1000 words, or ends up being a novelette at minimum – and not due to padding, but due to me misjudging the necessary word count to actually finish the story.

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