How Long is Too Long?
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.