Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Short story lengths

Shirley Blair has written a useful and interesting post on story lengths. Naturally it deals with the
requirements for The People's Friend as that's where she works, but I feel the advice applies to all womags.

To paraphrase and add my tupenny worth ...

1. Find out the word length requirements of the magazines you wish to submit to, and stick as closely to them as possible. (The magazine guideline quick links on this blog may help.) You won't be rejected because you've sent 2,003 words when they asked for 2,000, but if you send 500 or 4,000 then the magazine editor is very unlikely to be able to use your story, even if she loves it.

2. If you do send the 'wrong' length, accept that it will be edited to fit the space. This could involve cutting something you felt was important, or adding something you'd rather wasn't included. Such changes can happen anyway, but if your story doesn't fit as it is, the editor has no option but to either alter or reject it.

Remember editors are busy people. They may prefer to accept a story they can use as it is, over one which requires a considerable amount of extra work.

3. If you write stories in the lengths which are used most frequently, you increase your chances both of it being accepted at the first try and of being able to submit it elsewhere, should that prove unsuccessful.

4. If you need to add words then don't just pad it out with long winded phrases which will weaken the story. Instead add something of value and interest – an extra twist or touch of humour are often welcomed by editors.

5. When cutting words, double check you haven't removed something the reader needs to know in order to understand the story.  (This book contains useful information, including advice on writing to a word count.)

Do you find it easy to stick to word counts? If you ever struggle, do you tend to go over or under the requested figure?


Unknown said...

Thanks for this interesting post Patsy. I find I normally go over the required word count. But then, when I edit my story I find I can easily lose a few hundred superfluous words such as 'that' and 'had' and 'just.' My stories are usually littered with them. Then once I've cut them out I meet the required length and the story flows better as well. xx

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Great post, Patsy, thanks. I tend to write fewer words then need to add at times, but occasionally a particular story just naturally lends itself perfectly to a required length (love when that happens!).

Patsy said...

@ Lisa - I find that cutting words almost always improves a story. I suppose it's because we make sure we keep the best bits and delete anything less interesting.

@ Rosemary - It's always a relief when they come out close to the length we want them to be. I hate it when a story that's otherwise perfect for a mag is completely the wrong length.

Sue Blackburn said...

Thank you for that Patsy. Really helpful post. I do find when I've written a story I actually really enjoy editing it and getting it to the right length. Much prefer cutting to adding though! x

Kitty-Lydia Dye said...

I think the longest amount of words I've had to cut out was 5,000 in a fantasy story, unfortunately had to cut out a few locations. For a women's fiction story, it's normally over 300 words when I've finished the first draft, with the longest being 1,000. Cutting out a few 'he said/she said' when it's obvious who is talking helps, and it makes the dialogue snappier :) Great blog post.

Patsy said...

@ Sue - I'm the same, I quite like editing, but usually much prefer cutting than adding to the word count.

@Kitty - looking at the speech tags is a good tip for reducing words without losing any story.