Length and structure and choices

I’m at a crossroads with a new piece I’m working on. I am peering down the roads rather dubiously.

You see, this is not going to be a very short piece. I’m not sure there’s anything I can do to make it under the official short story limit (7.5K), and the unofficial ones are right out (anything longer than 4-5K is de facto harder to sell). I could basically do that if the story was a summary of events and had no voice and no detail, and it would not really be worth doing, because the voice and the details are what I love about this story idea in the first place. I am 2.5K into this story and can tell you that I am not halfway through, nor even a third of the way through.

And usually when I’m at this point, I shrug and go on as I have started, because stories have a natural length, and it’s far better to hit the natural length and try to sell a good story than to cut it off or draw it out and try to sell a mediocre one.

But this story. This has the potential for subplots.

Subplots change everything.

If I am setting up subplots, the beginning goes differently. There are at least two more important characters, and they have to come in early. The beats in the first scene fall completely differently if Rhia gets to make friends with the offbeat Lady Victorine and get drawn into her schemes. (She has a name. Characters with names are dangerous.) If I am setting up for the long haul, there are other people, and the other people do things, and it ramifies.

Short stories can ramify. They can, they should. But. Fewer details in them are allowed to ramify within the story. The ramifications exist either as a string of things in the reader’s head (which can be good) or as separate stories (also can be good). But in novellas and novels, there can be the kind of ramifications that come all at once, woven in, rather than later, like beads on a string.

I can see this story going either way. I can see it being a good novelette or possibly short novella. I can see it being a good long novella or full-length novel. So the question of what will best serve the story is not helping me here.

The problem is that I can do almost anything that’s a short story. Short story length, no problem. I don’t have to ask myself, “Is this the best use of my time?” Well, okay, I do. But the bar is much lower when I know I can do a different one next week. “Is this the novel I want to be writing now?” is a much harder question. This is the story that’s vivid. This is the story that’s drawing me in. And I like a lot of things about the novel potential. But I’m pretty sure it’s not the wisest novel to be writing now.

So the other question is how much we really care about wisdom, I guess. Whether I want the shorter, theoretically more manageable version. But also whether I want to throw caution to the wind and just let the thing unfold more.

I don’t think there’s one right answer here. I think a lot of writing advice I see online is of the form “go for the gusto.” But there’s gusto in more than one place. Sometimes being able to do a completely different form and type of story next week is more…gustavian. (Wait, that’s not the right adjective.) And sometimes flinging yourself in really deep is. And right now my choices are all good.

This is beyond First World Problems. This is Awesome World Problems.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *