Length & breadth

I've been neglecting this blog--busy times at school as people start to become aware how close we're getting to Christmas Break.

What have I been up to, writing-wise? Well, the bulk of my writing time has been rewriting & revising a few older pieces ("Choice is an Axiom," "Bound in a Nutshell") and submitting them. I now have six completed stories, about 21,000 total words, under consideration by various markets.

I've also been writing new things. "God Object" has stalled out for now--there's a piece of the story's climax I need to plan out in more detail--but I've been trying my hand at a few other things, particularly trying to complete some flash fiction stories.

Flash fiction is usually defined as a complete short story, with character development and a plot, that totals under a thousand words. This is a fascinating challenge for me: I've often thought about myself that I can't say hello in fewer than 500 words.

Gardner Dozois noted in his introductory essay to the 2016 Year's Best Science Fiction short story compilation how more and more notable SF short fiction is in ultra-short forms, and speculates this is the result of writers shaping their work for websites and online publishers.

At the other end of the spectrum of course are novels. Book publishers want Big Thick Books--George R. R. Martin and Peter F. Hamilton are at the top end of this spectrum, true, but your typical Alistair Reynolds novel is, what, 500 pages? I've seen plenty of instances of short stories being made into novels simply because novels sell far more. I love Isaac Asimov; Robert Silverberg is an established genius; but "Nightfall" and "Bicentennial Man" and "The Ugly Little Boy" were perfect as they were originally written and didn't need to be extended.

Silverberg of course is on record defending the novella. "Officially" (although there is little consistency) novellas start at 17,500 words and go up to 40,000. Some favorite books are actually novellas.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe: 36,000 words. Animal Farm: 30,000 words. War of the Worlds: 29,000 words.

When I was young and exploring reading I used to marvel at these weird little books, so thin as to feel insubstantial in the hand but so dense with ideas. Novellas are what I want to be writing. The lengths of my output so far range from 2,000 to 6,000 words. I feel like each of the things I've written so far have been as long as they needed to be, mind...but I have this sense that the ideas I'm writing are not big enough yet to justify that kind of wordcount.

There is something in planning. Tyranny of the Sun is a set of interlinked narratives set in a solar system where humanity clings to survival after the Sun has unexpectedly gone supernova. It's a hell of a setting. I don't think I'm quite ready to write it yet, but there is an outline.

But if I do write it...where does it go? Where do novellas actually get published? There are only a handful of markets that run genre work over 17,500 words: Asimov's, Analog, Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tor.com, GigaNotoSaurus and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. (I can probably rule that last one out entirely: I don't see myself ever writing a Conan the Barbarian-like epic.) So: dozens of places to try to sell a short story, only a handful for someone who's not an established novelist to get a novella published.

So the solution is...what, pad everything out to 90,000 words no matter how diluted the writing gets? Spend page after page on world-building with no relevance to what's going on? Abandon medium-length works in favor of impossibly dense short stories?

Self-publish?! *gasp*

Edmund Schluessel

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