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Mile 3: Short Story, Novella or Novel?

As I write this series of blogs, I am making three assumptions about the you, the reader. Granted, assumptions are often dangerous, so please forgive me if I’m off. First, you’re interested in writing and the process in and around writing. Second, you want to write fiction. While writing nonfiction (which many of you have done) shares many of the traits of writing fiction, it is still quite different. I have written and published a few nonfiction books, including Western-based books, but will be focusing on fiction in this series. Third, you want to write Westerns. None of these three are requirements for joining us on this shared journey — I just wanted you to know who I am primarily writing for.

That being said, one of the first things you have to determine is what you want to write: a short story, a novella, or a full-blown novel? In general, a short story ranges from 2,000 words on up to 7,500 words, though some extend the definition of a short story to 10,000 words. Novellas pick up where short stories leave off and range up to 40,000 or even 50,000 words, again, depending on who’s counting. Novels are the third rung on the ladder and range from 40,000 to 50,000 words on up to when you run out of things to say.

Most Western novels are in the 40,000 to 60,000 word range, but there certainly is no upper limit, unless and until you run out of story. Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove” (perhaps my all-time favorite Western novel), ran upwards of 360,000 words, and left me hungry for more.

This would be an excellent point to sit back and put some thought to the story(ies) you want to tell.

Is it a short, powerful idea that lends itself to a short story, a vignette if you will? Can you see it developing into something with a little more depth where a bit more length will benefit the story and the reader? If so, a novella might be the right answer for you. Or is there enough meat in your idea for a full-blown novel? If so, settle in, because you have a lot of work to do.

NOTE – I have found that a hammock, a cigar and a glass of good bourbon do wonders for helping me think, and even if I don’t come up with a great idea, or solve a problem with my story, I’ve enjoyed the process.

I wish you good writing, and if you have a question or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!

One Comment on “Mile 3: Short Story, Novella or Novel?

Jacquie Rogers
June 20, 2018 at 4:39 am

But sometimes you get fooled by the scope of the idea. My last 60k novel ended up 93k, and even at that, I had to leave two threads hanging and give another one short shrift. Maybe I needed more whiskey/hammock time. LOL

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