Native Lengths

One of the things I learned at Worldcon (and bear in mind I’m talking about the consensus of a lot of conflicting or multi-toned advice from a lot of different authors, editors and publishers) is that if you are not used to reading short stories, don’t write them. This makes sense to me. After all, the kind of thing you most read for pleasure is probably what you’re going to be good at writing: if you’re a mystery reader who doesn’t usually crack a fantasy novel, you’re not going to be well prepared to write any fantasy. (Not to say you shouldn’t try, just that you’ll be better at writing mysteries, most likely.) So the same thing probably holds for lengths and types of story.

I don’t read short stories myself very often. Some, but the form is not what I spend most of my time with. And it is a different form, requiring some different skills to do. It’s not what I’d call my native length.

I always thought my native length was the novel, pure and simple. But here I am suddenly taken with a novella, which is what I produce when I try to write short stories. And it occurs to me that it’s the fourth one I’ve written recently. So what is that about? I don’t read novellas all that often. Is there something different about the novella that makes it easy for a novel reader to work in? Is it just that I can’t keep my ideas down to short story length?

Oh well, for whatever reason, I seem to have two native lengths: the novella, running around 25k words, and the novel, anywhere from 80k up.


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