Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Writing Something Shorter

This school year, I’m teaching a short story and novel writing class to a group of teenagers at our homeschool co-op. We’ve only been going for a few weeks, but I’m having so much fun!

One thing we’re doing is writing stories in a wide variety of lengths. I thought I’d share some of the lengths we’re doing. I have really enjoyed thinking about these different styles of stories more. Sometimes you just need a break from working on novels, you know? And sometimes you even need a break from a traditional “short story.” If this is you, read on for some ideas!

1. Our biggest project is going to be a novel/novella/novelette (depending on how ambitious and excited each kid is; they’ll be setting their own limits). Incidentally, in case you were wondering, here are some generally accepted numbers for the lengths of those different types:
Novel: somewhere over 40,000 words
Novella: about 17,500 to 40,000 words (or about 70–80 pages)
Novelette: 7,500 to 17,500 words (about 30–70 pages)

(Did you know there are lots of specifications for short stories too, like “long short story” and “short short story”? Crazy.)

2. Six-word stories. This should be self-explanatory, right? Six words. The end. We did six-word memoirs on the first day of class, and it was amazing how much I got to learn about each of these awesome kids from what they said about themselves in just six words.*

3. Twitter stories. Yes, I know some people write Twitter stories that are contained in a long series of tweets, but I think it’s much more fun and interesting to write a story that can be contained in a single tweet—that’s 140 characters (which includes spaces and punctuation). Again, it’s interesting to see how much you really can pack into such a short space—and also what you really can’t.

4. Flash fiction. This is usually considered anything between about 500 and 750 words. Here’s what I love about this length: Let’s say you get a good idea one morning. You hop in the shower and think it out; by the time you’ve toweled your hair, you have an exact plan. If you have a typing speed of, say, 50 wpm, you could sit down to type and have a completed rough draft 15 minutes later! Instant gratification!

5. Typical short story length, somewhere in the low thousands. Honestly, I don’t have much to say about these, although I do think it’s great to write them occasionally.

Are you feeling stuck in your current WIP? How about taking a break. Write a Twitter story based on a side character. Write some flash fiction about what would happen if your main character woke up one day with a super power. Imagine your villain’s six-word memoir. It could be fun.

* In case you were wondering, it’s cheating in a memoir to just list qualities like, “Funny, creative, mother, wife.” You have to tell a story in those words. Try it, it’s fun!

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