Staring at at a blank page can be daunting, but remember…you don’t have to set out to write a novel every time you begin to write. There are almost as many flavors of fiction as there were of original Baskin Robbins ice cream. Well, maybe not quite–especially since they have expanded that number a LOT!
The point is, you don’t have to start out with a 100,000 word novel. Start slowly and build up, if you want.
Wikipedia has a nice little chart of the main word counts according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or SFWA. But you can see from the rest of that paragraph that numbers vary widely for novels.
Most people I know consider a story of 1000 words or less to be Flash Fiction, which itself has many varieties–from the popular Six-Word Stories (the most famous of these being FOR SALE: BABY SHOES. NEVER WORN often attributed to Ernest Hemmingway–to the 100 word “Drabbles“–to 750 word “Sudden Fiction.” These stories are the bite-size entertainment that go with our commuter lifestyles and short attention spans. 😉
If you want to try some of these out for yourself, you can find several places to submit these, like Six-Word Memoirs or Narrative Magazine, which pays well for six-words, but charges a fee for submissions, so that is a personal choice to make.
Drabbles can be submitted to The Dribble Drabble Review (no fee/no pay) or The Drabble (also no fee/no pay from what I can tell.) Some people say you should never publish anything unless you get paid for it, but I think sites like these are a good way to hone your craft…
To get some idea of Sudden Fiction, there are several book published with examples, like Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories or Sudden Fiction International: 60 Short-Short Stories.
This article includes a great list of markets for Flash Fiction in general.
When you have gotten comfortable with Flash Fiction, you will have honed a great skill, the ability to tell a cohesive story with limited words. If you can do that, it is likely that you will be able to start upping your word count with confidence.
Many of my acquaintances who come from a journalistic background have told me how much writing newspaper copy helped them learn to write lean and to the point. Read as many articles as you can and begin to recognize this trait.
Check the maximum word counts for a short story market you are interested in (for example, the imprint I edit for Horrified Press, Thirteen O’Clock, has an upper limit of 5000 words.) Don’t go over that limit–or under a minimum. It is unprofessional and wastes the editor’s time, which can have repercussions down the line.
When you are ready to up your game again, I personally suggest National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, in November. With a minimum word count to “win” of 50,000 words in thirty days, it is a great way to get a first draft down on paper (or computer file.) Most of the novels I have written started out as NaNoWriMo books, and if you read down that Wikipedia article, I am apparently in great company!
Nobody says you CAN’T start out to write a 100,000 word epic fantasy or science fiction masterpiece and do fantastically well–but it isn’t the norm. Just remember…baby steps come before you run. And have fun! Good luck out there.
Here are some other great references dealing with the different “sizes” of stories:
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What word count works best for you? Have you tried them all? Drop me a line in the comments. Let’s discuss. 🙂