Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Matter of Length


I’m currently struggling with a sequel to a novel that hasn’t been published (or accepted?) yet. This project was originally going to be the second and third in a trilogy. Being a confirmed pantser, I had the ideas but no detailed outline of these next two books.  About a hundred pages in I started to wonder if I had enough plot to warrant two volumes. Maybe a single volume, divided into parts one and two would be better? Which leads me to a discussion on length.

When I started writing I’d knock off a novel, send it out, and while waiting the two years for a rejection letter, fire off several short stories to anthologies. I had one editor tell me twice, in her polite rejections, that my short stories sounded more like novels. I eventually had a short story win first in a writing contest, and another published in an anthology, but the novel seed had been germinated.

I really do prefer the novel length where I can get to know the characters well while spinning out the tale. Then I discovered the novella. (In my fevered brain, about 30,000 words)

I wanted to write a fantasy detective tale for some time. I had the ideas and format and dashed off “Housetrap.” Then I discovered the novella is not an easy sale. There are a limited number of markets. I had an editor tell me he liked the story but it was too long for his magazine. Not to be discouraged, I whipped up two more tales, packaged the three together as book-length, and fired them off to publishers. It worked. Two publishers asked to see the manuscript. Of course, two years later they were still saying they were interested. In the meantime I found someone else (Champagne) and we were away. The Housetrap Chronicles are up to number eight now, with the first six packaged in volumes 1 & 2 and all available as ebooks.

But I still normally prefer the novel length with my usual target to come in at around 100,000 words.

One of my last forays back into the realm of the short story was a tale told by disheartened knight who rescues a lady seeking refuge. I finished the project but wasn’t entirely satisfied. What happens next? I ended up writing in effect three more short stories, each told by a different individual, and linking them together as “Knights’ Bridge,” in a novella format and much more satisfying, to me anyway, than the original short story.

Of course, length is also subject to the publisher’s needs and wishes. I wrote a tale, that came in somewhere over the 100,000 word mark and sent it away. The publisher loved it but had a request. She asked that I split it into two full-length novels, which meant adding more meat to the story, and then write a third as she felt there were too many loose ends still dangling. That was an interesting exercise, and fortunately the format of the plot made it an easy chore. There was even a brief discussion about turning it into a series.

Pick a length that suits the tale, and write it, but in the back of your mind, think about publishers and the markets where hopefully it will ultimately end up.

R.J.Hore
www.facebook.com/RonaldJHore

The Dark Lady Trilogy (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn (Volume 1,2,3)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 8)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge
We’re Not in Kansas

Toltec Dawn Trilogy (Volume 1, 2, 3)

1 comments:

Veronica Helen Hart said...

Hi Ron,
I share your angst about length. My works run from 65K up to slightly over 100K. Two different publishers, Champagne and the defunct Double Edge Press. I think you're absolutely correct in that you write the story until it's finished, then you decide what it is. I'm currently working on what I thought would be a short story, but it's reaching novella length, and it might grow from there. The characters keep coming up with problems that need solving before anyone can live happily ever after - not that they necessarily will.