For the past few weeks I’ve been working on a long short story and finished it Monday. Long short story seems a contradictory descriptor – like jumbo shrimp. My story is around 13,000 words – half way to novella length and five or six times longer than the average short story published today.
Not that there is an average. Markets range from postcards-size to, in theory, unlimited until the story is clearly a novella or would take up too many pages in the magazine.
In my first creative writing workshop some twenty years ago, the instructor asked us to hand in stories of around 5,000 words; he said that anything less than that wouldn’t have enough meat. This primed me to write short stories around that size until I discovered how hard they were to get published. I reduced my typical story length to a more marketable 3,000 words, which is still way too high, today, for many appealing markets and contests, such as the CBC Literary Awards
Why this short story shrinkage? I think the reason is practical. Most short stories are published by literary magazines, which recieve tons of worthy submissions. Who can blame them for preferring to allocate x number of pages to 3,4,5,6 writers than xxxx number to a single one?
So, what will I do with my jumbo shrimp? For starters, put it aside. Then, revise and see if anyone wants to publish the whole creature or parts of it that might stand alone. This story’s been rumbling around in my head for the past three years; it feels good to get it out of there and onto the page. And now, with my published short story credits, I have enough material to start thinking of a story collection.