how short is long enuf?

Dostoevsky is supposed to have written, “I’m sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”

One technique among writers is to pour as much onto the page as you can and then later come back to cull and edit and refine so that the result is polished but also generally much shorter. You are able to do this because you had sufficient raw material to work with.

I’m looking at a piece of my writing from the other perspective. Over a few recent sessions, I’ve written what I think is a whole story (first draft) that finishes at a whopping 450 words. Something about this feels wrong to me.

I suppose this fits nicely into the category of flash fiction. Generally defined as a complete story under 1,000 words and often far under that. My piece qualifies. And I know as I give it some time and distance that I’ll come back to it and shore up its deficiencies (like maybe a tiny bit more nuanced reference to what/who the narrator stands for), but even so, I’m not likely to more than double the current word count.

It’s a first-person story, mainly because I want to show the narrator’s subtle, bemused contempt for a group of (gullible) people, so it’s really his story. I’ve thought about adding a second character, a stand-in for the object of the narrator’s contempt, but I don’t see how that does anything more than add to the word count and probably distract from what I’m trying to get across.

So maybe it is (or will be) my first piece of flash fiction, but I’ve always been suspicious of that category. If attention spans really are shrinking and the market for shorter short stories is expanding, then am I feeding the need and failing the civilization? (Actually, that dovetails nicely with what my story is “about.”)

Still, I can’t help thinking that what I have is merely a sketch for a better story that is waiting to be written. I feel as though I may be taking the easier path of calling it good rather than making it better. (I recently “finished” another story — one I’ve been working on for literally four years — that comes in at only 1,300 words, and I have the same suspicions about it as well, that I have only some pieces of a bigger story. I’m letting it simmer.)

So I’ll anguish over this for a few weeks as I let it simmer as well and look around for some likely markets for it.

Also, this is the first time I’ve used the term “butt hurt” in a story.

Explore posts in the same categories: short stories

One Comment on “how short is long enuf?”

  1. Pete Anderson Says:

    Word count doesn’t matter. In worrying about it, you’re just letting outsiders impose their biases on you – big novels are “more important” than novellas, novellas than short stories, short stories than flash fiction, etc. A good story is no longer or shorter than it has to be. If you can tell a good story in 500 words, and saying everything that needs to be said without going off on unnecessary tangents or pulling in superfluous characters, then let it be 500 words. But if you can’t tell the story in less than 200,000 words, then so be it.


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