Sunday, April 11, 2021

How to Write Shorter Works Successfully

THE SORCERESS QUEEN AND THE PIRATE ROGUE comes out April 19! This is Book Two in Heirs of Magic, and you can preorder a copy at the links below or via my website. :-)


This week at the SFF Seven, we're examining the differences between writing a short story, novella, novel, series. We're asking each other: Do you prepare for length beforehand or edit down (or add new stuff) afterward?

So, I have Strong Opinions about this. Something that may come as a surprise to exactly none of you. 

I am primarily a novelist now and the shortest works I write are novellas that are typically no less than 25K words. (My novels range from 90K-120K.) When I first started writing, I wrote essays and short stories. My first book - Wyoming Trucks, True Love, and the Weather Channel - was an essay collection. Writing those shorter lengths came naturally to me from work in school. 

When I transitioned to writing novels, it was MUCH more difficult than I expected. I had this idea that it would be like writing a really long essay. 

Reader: it was not. 

I had to learn the rhythm and pacing of a novel, which feels like an entirely different art form than writing novellas or shorts. Because... it is. It's a common error for an author to attempt to stretch a short story concept into a novel. Readers notice that the story feels "thin," stretched out for too long, and filled with stuff that's boring because it's unnecessary. Or, sometimes, a story that's novel-length gets wedged into a shorter format. Then it feels rushed, over too soon, and never fully explored.

So, my answer is that I *always* prepare for length beforehand. The story concept MUST fit the planned length. It's a matter of choosing a story with the correct scope for that length. Shorter works have fewer secondary characters and more straightforward conflicts. Very short works should explore a single idea. One surefire way to confine a story to a shorter length is to have it take place over a much shorter span of time. For example, my novella, THE LONG NIGHT OF THE CRYSTALLINE MOON, which is the prequel to Heirs of Magic, takes place over the course of a single night. This helps to make up for the fact that I have a lot of secondary characters - more than any other novella I've written. It wasn't ideal, but I made that choice because I was introducing a new series.

Naturally, there are no actual rules. Or, if there are, they're made to be broken. But I do think that adding or deleting to winnow a novel into a short, or fattening up a short to make it a novel, almost never works. 


  1. Good advice! I'm in the middle of a novel which was 'supposed' to be a novella but oh gee, look - the plot has grown and grown LOL. Love your suggestions!

    1. That can happen! And, really, you can't fight it. :-)