How Long is Too Long?

Posted on: June 16th, 2010 by Anthony Rapino 8 Comments

I just finished writing a short story today. It clocked in at a whopping 7,200 words, which doesn’t seem like much until you try to submit a story longer than 5,000 words to a magazine.

There are a number of magazines out there that do accept manuscripts into the 7,000, and sometimes even 10,000, word range. But it is becoming harder to find such word-houses.

And thus, whenever I finish a first draft that happens to be over 5,000 words, the first consideration I make is can I cut this down to size? Eight times out of 10, I can. As a rule, when I edit, I attempt to cut out rather than put in. (I say “attempt” because it doesn’t always work out). There’s always something to cut. There are false starts, wordy sentences, extraneous details, dull characters, and unnecessary scenes.

Still, a turning point will present itself. A crossroads where all of the editing has taken place and yet there are still too many words. A “cusp”–to quote the famous Martian, Valentine Michael Smith–where I must decide to either let the story exist in its current form, or begin cutting pieces off that will change the story’s appearance in deep, meaningful ways.

My decision differs from time to time. But it’s never an easy one to make. And so, as I begin editing my latest untitled story, these thoughts will persist until the very last.

8 Responses

  1. Paul West says:

    Exactly my point.

  2. E. Arroyo says:

    I feel the same. I need to cut but I find myself adding. Until I say that's it. No more. Done. I can't add anymore. Hopefully that mindset will work. LOL

  3. Andrea Allison says:

    Wow. You really did write today. Good for you.

    I hate having to cut words. Always afraid I'm going to cut too much or something essential to the story without realizing it. A messy job.

  4. Cate Gardner says:

    My word count is normally so poor, I'm forced to add. 🙁

  5. Rabid Fox says:

    7,000 sounds like it's in novelette range. I'm not sure, as I've only written a couple of stories of that length–neither published.

    I'd only suggest keeping an eye on Duotrope with advanced searches for anthologies and periodicals that are looking for stories in that range. Lord knows that's like looking for four-leaf clovers, probably.

  6. onipar... says:

    Paul, ha, I just read your blog post. 🙂

    E., same here. There always seems to be something missing, no matter how much I need to cut.

    Andrea, I sure did! 🙂

    Cate, if only I had that problem. Sounds wonderful to me.

    Rabid Fox, Yeah, I usually do the advanced search in duotrope when I need to. There are a few mags, but even they often times say "it's a harder sell" than the shorter stories.

  7. Benjamin Solah says:

    I used to have to cut my stories down too because I've found you just can't sell them when they're nearing 5,000 words, sometimes even less.

  8. Shaun says:

    A story will be as long as it needs to me IMHO. In a short story every word counts. If you have to cut it to make it fit acceptable lengths, then you might be cutting the heart out of it.

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