Finding The Right Story Length

Shutterstock / LedyX © story length

When reading unsolicited manuscripts, it’s often clear if story length is a problem.

If a story is too short, then character development will suffer, and there is often a lack of background detail as the writer throws the reader straight into the story with no proper build-up. If a story is too long, then this will affect pacing of a different kind.

We often have an expression on the Fiction team where we refer to a story as “running out of steam”.

This essentially equates to a plot being wound up before the end of a story. A drawn-out story will have sections of the plot where events stagnate, reflected in character behaviour and dreaded conversations that go nowhere.

To cut or add . . .

Regular writers of the “Friend” will know we have specific story length slots in the magazine – you can read more about our requirements in the post Choosing The Weekly Story Mix.

As a writer, you don’t have to be spot on regarding word count; you won’t be penalised if your story is out by 10% or so. So, how do you know if your story is suitable for 2000 or 3000 words?

Some story ideas suit particular lengths. Our page stories of 1000 words often complement fun, quirky storytelling.

Whereas a 4000-word story will require character development, the story journey offering more scope in relation to twists and turns in the plot.

Just write

My advice is to simply write, and then when the story is down on paper, edit accordingly.

When you come up with a story idea, you’ll have an indication what length of story is required. It’s not impossible, but still highly unlikely a story about anti-slavery in the 19th century will be suitable for 1000 or 1200 words.

I think some writers are apprehensive at editing their own stories. I understand that a story is close to a writer’s heart.

However, writing is a discipline as much as it is a creative process. If you are not happy with your word count, editing dialogue can do wonders.

Equally, editing entire scenes can be advantageous – what if a scene was deleted, or if it appeared elsewhere in the story replacing another? After all, the length of a story isn’t as important as the overall impression a story conveys.

For more from the “Friend” Fiction team, click here.

Alan Spink

Alan is a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. He enjoys working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, he also writes fiction and enjoys watching football and movies in his spare time. His one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.