Ideas can either become full-fledged novels or remains short stories. I’m thinking about this at the moment because of National Novel Writing Month. I have several ideas I’m working on, but what I’m realizing as I’m looking at the stories is that in reality, many of these individual ideas could be molded into one story, as different character traits or different moments in time. Or they could all be short stories and you can explore the details in greater depth than you would if you integrated more ideas.
What I find interesting about the concept of “how long should a story be” is that I think as a writer, whether or not you end up combining other ideas or just keeping a simple idea isn’t dictated by how longer you story is, but rather, by a choice you make about the store you want to tell. What I mean by that is that at some point, you have a world that you’ve built for this story and you have to decide if it’s going to be a novella or a full-fledged novel or short story. And you have to make that choice.
An example is a piece of work that I’ve worked on for I guess since 2006. The initial draft was rather long about 13,000 words. The premise centers on this timeless school in the middle the forest when the world has suffered from a catastrophic virus outbreak. Not a zombie tale, but it’s the idea the “what if the flu killed the world.” I had given a draft to my brother who read it and looked at me and said I love a lot of the ideas, you have enough to make an entire world from this. You need to decide if you’re going to do that.”
And what he was telling me was to either a) shorten the damn story because there was too much information there or b) work at all the details and show us the the world in more than just these broad strokes that you’ve created the hint at more. So I shortened it. The current draft sits at about 4000 words. For that, the pace is much better. The core ideas of the store. The core events of the story are the same, but because I chose to take out so much of the extraneous detail, I think the pacing is much better. Though, who knows what details may eventually filled a longer story.
I actually think by shortening it, I was able to better develop the characters because I had to understand exactly what they would say in that exact moment. They didn’t have a lot of leeway to just meander around and get to the point. Every word matters in a short story, far more than they do in a novel.
And yet, the number of characters in the shortened version exactly the same. The beats the story are exactly the same. But the details and how quickly I have to get to that point is not the same. Again, the length of the story has not dictated the number of ideas or characters that appear in the story, but rather I made a choice about how longer one of the story to be, which inevitably did in fact influenced the pace and length of the story.
Do any of you find that adding ideas and combining ideas affect the story length? Or do you know when the story needs to be longer or shorter?