Size DOES Matter…

We’ve been talking a lot about size at Romaniac HQ recently (I’m talking about word count, OF COURSE!) with some of us having had recent successes on the short story and flash fiction front as well as the exciting book deals.

Vanessa's flash fiction in print: Winter's Kiss
Vanessa’s prize-winning flash fiction in print: Winter’s Kiss

I’m currently between edits of a book, which is about 95,000 words long. I began writing it just under a year ago and it’s gone through many drafts, but I’m hoping it’s nearly at the point where I can say it’s finished.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel a bit lost when a book is resting between drafts – when I’m forcing myself to leave it alone for a week or two. To go from such intense immersion in a fictional world for nearly a year back to real life is always a shock, and I’m always keen to dive back into another fictional land as soon as possible. Real life is all about contemplating the chores I haven’t done for a year because I’ve been too busy writing, or it’s about filling in tax returns and doing accounts… No thanks.

But another book straight away is too much, so I turn to short fiction between drafts, the shorter the better. Flash fiction is my thing – 500 words and under, every sentence edited down to the bare bones to get a complete story across in just a few short paragraphs… after a seemingly endless and meandering journey from 0 – 95,000 words with a novel, having only 500 words to tell a whole story is a refreshing change, an icy-cold gin and tonic in the sun after a year of rich red wine in a dark room, a slice of key lime pie after a year of gooey chocolate cake… you get my drift.

It’s a tonic, it’s a change, it’s a chance to re-charge batteries and best of all – I can finish a whole project in less than a day! Flash fiction is also brilliant for editing practice – I wrote a story the other week I wanted to enter in a competition and it came in at just under 700 words, but the word limit for the competition was 500 words. It can’t be done, I muttered to myself, every word is VITAL TO THE STORY. But when I went back through it, I found there were actually quite a few words – whole sentences even – I could delete without ruining the story. And I ended up with a much stronger piece of writing. And all the time I’m writing my flash fiction pieces, new ideas for the next book are brewing nicely…

The size of story I struggle with is the short story – anything between 2 and 5,000 words. I like my fiction very short or very long. What I find happens with this length of fiction is it gets away from me – I can’t stop and before I know it, I’ve got six chapters of something never intended to be a novel. The first book I wrote started out as a short story idea that never really stopped, which I guess makes me a bit of an accidental novelist – Vanessa Savage: The girl who could not type The End…

I’d love to know what word count works for you…

Vanessa x

An Earthless Melting Pot, an anthology of prize-winning flash fiction and short stories, can be bought here.

6 thoughts on “Size DOES Matter…

  1. I started out waaay back at 30 thousand (children’s fic, remember) and gravitated to 56 thou. New novel ‘Diamonds&Dust is nearer 70 thou. Can’t cope with over 80 thous…it’s like herding cats.

    • Hi Carol – mine all seem to end up in the cat-herding territory! I think that’s why I like flash fiction so much in between books 🙂
      Vanessa x

  2. Ha! What a great post. I’m a long-writer by nature, and most of my first drafts (of novels) come in at 120K or so. Which is okay, as 120K is the upper bracket of what’s viable for commercial printing, or so I’m told. To save myself weeks of cutting, I’ve started to down- manage my goal, and I find if I aim for 70K, I end up with about 100K, which is perfect. To me, that’s a good-size, chunky novel.

    I’ve recently experimented with shorter fiction and I’ve quite got to like flash fiction. I’ve also tried a novella and am discovering that 30K is a good length. (Scary thought ~ my MPhil thesis was 30K and took me months to write. Yet a 30K novella took a week. Um… how?).

    I struggle with short stories. I just can’t wrap my head or typing fingers around them. I guess I’m a bit like you, Vanessa ~ it’s either got to be really long, or really short. 🙂

    • Thanks Nicky! Do you know, I’ve never tried anything novella length… Hmmm… Time for a new notebook to explore ideas, I think!!
      Vanessa x

  3. Flash fiction is hard! Like poetry, it requires exactitude and finesse. I, alas, lack both but am inspired by this blog to maybe having another go.

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