Thanks, Fandango, but it’s not at all what you expect … call it a twist of irony.
Of course, it does.
I wrote a whole diatribe, deleted it, wrote it again, deleted it. It had nothing to do with the expectation of the question – or, at least, the expectation that a male would associate with the question, but that’s gone now – I pulled my horns in.
Instead, you get this: what is the right size for the story? This relates to genre, in a sense, but also to what readers expect from particular genres. A fantasy can be longer than a romance, a thriller can be longer than a cozy or crime fiction, an urban fantasy or magic realism story can be any length – but those who read have rules about length!
Size, in this context, does relate to length
(we had to get there sometime, didn’t we?).
Even a short story has rules about length. There are:
Micro and flash fiction (defined slightly differently in Australia than in the US, EU, and UK);
(from 1,000 words and can go up to 15,000 words, but some publishers/readers think anything over 10k words is a novelette!);
(10-20,000 words, but check, check, check – the Nebula Award makes their expectations clear);
(20-40,000 words – but some say 20-55,000 words!).
Then there are ‘real’ stories:
(40 (or 50, or 55) thousand words and up);
(go on, define a super-huge tome like War and Peace).
I may have missed one or two, because these things are constantly on the move – the world changes, as does how a reader expects to receive their story. And a lot of stories are rejected for being the wrong ‘size’ so yes, Fandango, size does matter.
However, the most important question is this:
is the story the right size to say what needs to be said?
That’s my criterion – it’s all I need to focus on while writing the story.
If I want long and complex, thick with interactions and side-shows, it’s going to be longer, but the main message may be muddy or diluted. Fantasy can suffer from this, because there seems to be a need for multiple racial profiles and interactions, for building a world visible to the reader that sets the ‘difference’ up from the beginning.
If I want short and blunt, the story needs to be focussed tightly on one event, one person’s interaction with one other person. That’s the best fit for a low count. That’s why romance is shorter than fantasy.
If I want a good story, well told – what does size matter?
A lot. A story isn’t a story without a reader, and readers have expectations, so Yes, Size Matters.
An example of a variety of short stories, from 500 words to …