What Story Length is Right for You?

The more I write, the more I discover about my own storywriting strengths, weaknesses, and natural aptitudes. We can learn to improve our weak spots, but it’s also wise to tap into our natural strengths, to go where the writing flows most naturally and beautifully. There are ways you can game your strengths and avoid your weaknesses; for example, if you’re not the best on realistic dialogue, you can avoid scenes of real-time conversations. If description is your strength, then there should be plenty of it! And if you know you struggle to make compelling plots, then that might be the first thing you work on, outlining and planning to make sure there’s a plot in there.

These strengths and aptitudes apply to figuring out what kind of story is the one for you. It takes time and experimentation to figure out what genre really excites you and what topics and characters you excel in capturing. But there’s another figuring-out process you’ve got to go through; you must figure out what length of story suits your writing best.

The more I write, the more I discover that long stories, the kind that carefully build characters’ pasts and personalities and tensions, are the ones that I excel at. I find it deeply satisfying to really get to know a character, to learn gradually of his past and his challenges, and then to see him take on those obstacles with a deep understanding of who he is and what he is up against. This is the kind of story I’m really enjoying reading right now, such as the master of the long short story, Alice Munro.

Long stories can be harder to publish, but it’s still worth it to be the best writer I can be and work on my strengths. That goes for you, too — you’ve got to experiment and try different forms to see which ones are the most successful. You might find you have a knack for flash fiction, or perhaps you’re built for the steady sustained effort of a novel. You’ll never know until you try! A good way to figure out what you want to write is to pay attention to what you want to read. What forms most excite you? Why not try writing in that form?


  1. Michael Washburn says:

    I am very similar in this regard – the long form works best for me. Maybe some people can write a fantastic story that clocks in at 2,500 words or under, but I can rarely do it. One thing that I find slightly discouraging about the submission guidelines of some literary journals is that they want stories in that range, or only slightly longer, say up to 5,000 words. I just need more words to develop characters, situations, ideas, and themes.

    At the same time, it can be fun, as an exercise, to try writing a piece of flash fiction. I once wrote a story that is exactly 500 words, not a single word over or under. It’s kind of interesting as a “literary curiosity.”

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