A couple of entries ago, I riffed upon the art of shortening the short story. But having thought a little more about it, I’ve come to realise a lot of the short stories I’m most proud of are actually longer than 2000 words. I have written novels, but they’re a different class entirely.
My longest short is called An Abundance of Apples, clocking in at around 4500 words. This tells the story of a man who trades 26 items, each beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. This was always going to be the approximate length, and it gave some room to manoeuvre when telling the story.
Another of my favourites is The Cracked Goldfish Bowl, about a man with an amazing memory but no self-confidence. The final word count was 4300 words, but that’s merely because I kept thinking of new challenges to face the main character rather than creating an overarching plan.
I tend to approach my short stories from the top downwards. Sometimes I know where I’m going to end up, but often I let the story wander as it wishes. An artist I know, Jennifer Robson, prefers the meandering approach to her sewing, as she doesn’t feel challenged if she knows what the end result will be.
I’m a strong believer in writing a proper ending to a story, whether that ending is known beforehand or not. Sadly I’ve read too many ‘two-thirds’ pieces with a great set up, and enjoyable narrative, but the writer has omitted a satisfactory conclusion, leaving it to flop out with a vague sentence or two. That final third might have made all the difference.
What I’m saying is that some stories need cut down to size, as discussed in that last entry, while others require some room to breathe. The question is which approach is the best one to take for that particular story.