Dam the flood?

No, it’s not raining.  Really?  Rain in the desert?  And because there is no rain, the rivers are dry, the lakes are static and the climate is stable.  Hot and dry, but stable.

What I refer to is a creative flood.  Let me ‘splain.  No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.

Project Q, my anthology short story, has just exceeded my target goal of 10,000 words.  While this is good news and I’ve enjoyed the ride on the whitewater rapids of 1000 plus words per day, the story is only 2/3 completed based on what has to happen.

What does this mean?

It means that the story dictates the story.  No, that is not a philosophical paradox.  In my experience, goals and targets are merely mile markers on the journey to “The End.”  The end of the story is not a destination, it is the end of a journey.

Okay, I’ve lost you.  Here’s an analogy.  With a car and a GPS, you pick a distant city and drive a specific, direct route to get there and arrive in a relatively precise amount of time after having traveled a relatively precise distance.  With travel, this is what we want in most cases.  Predictable planning.

No so with writing.  The goal with writing is to create a journey, not reach a specific destination.  The story idea may suggest a general size, short story versus novel.  But can you really predict that a particular short story will be exactly 10,000 words or a novel will be exactly 200,000 words?  Does it make any sense to expand or contract a story to fit into arbitrary size parameters.

Yes and no.  If you’re writing for periodicals, there is typically a finite space allotted to fiction and that will have a word count limit.  See the guidelines for the specifics.  If you’re writing for category fiction, your novel may need to be within a certain narrow range, e.g. 50,000 – 55,000 words based on the format for that category.  See publishers guidelines for specifics.

Outside those types of markets, it makes less sense to confine the story.

In my case, the anthology for which I am writing has a “suggested” and “agreed upon” target word count of 10,000 words, but no real upper limit.  Sure, those parameters are somewhat arbitrary, but the story will ultimately determine the length.

My deadline is this Sunday.  My story has reached my initial minimum target, but it is not finished.  So, for me, for this story, I will not dam the flood and will let the river rage on.

What are your thoughts on story length?

–Mark

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3 responses to “Dam the flood?

  • butchie34

    Sometimes the story will dictate its length no matter how much you as the author try to limit it or expand it.

    I think sometimes with novels the subplots also help to increase its “length” and the more plotlines you’re juggling the longer it’ll be. Maybe a good example would be Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (yawn). Instead of simply focusing on the core plot, he’s added so many plotlines it has had to run for soon-to-be fourteen novels instead of the original three.

  • Stephen A. Watkins

    I agree that a story needs to be as long as it needs to be.

    But in the traditional publishing world, those size restrictions matter a lot. Maybe that’s changing as the publishing landscape changes. I’m not sure.

    I try to write to a certain length, but usually the story will still go where it needs to go. In the end, that means that some stories will be viable for traditional professional markets and some will not. For those that aren’t, I hope someday to make them available in some non-traditional format…

  • Mark J. Taylor

    We writers do have ultimate control of length, for that is where revisions come in. When drafting, however, I suspect we all let loose a bit to see where the story takes us. At least I do.

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