Small is beautiful

Anne R. Allen observes that the art of fiction is constantly evolving, and that the alert writer must adapt to the times:

Fiction writing has gone through vast changes since Tolstoy’s day.

In fact, it has changed a good deal in the last decade.

Amy Collins at The Book Designer reports the average NYT Bestseller is now half as long as it was in 2011.

And the brand new Smashwords survey shows bestselling romance novels have decreased by 20,000 words since 2012.

The fastest growing fiction form right now is the novella.

If you want to sell books in the 21st century, you need to write books for the 21st century reader.

Whether we want to write potboilers or a future classic, we all want more people to read our work. So it only makes sense to learn what folks want to read. e.e. cummings once noted that poets not only have to compete with other fine poets for their readers’ attention, but also with “flowers and balloons and mud puddles and train rides.” And in the Internet Age, there are countless other contenders for increasingly brief attention spans, so Anne’s advice is crucial.

And there’s an added benefit to learning to say more with less: It makes you a better writer. Writing short stories, and then flash fiction — a form I once thought I’d never enjoy reading, much less enjoy writing — no doubt taught me to make every word count. And this week, I tried my hand at microfiction, with a story weighing in at less than 500 words. The process of selecting and marshalling your words within strict restraints is a demanding challenge and illuminating joy. Try it!

By the way, you’ll want to read all of Anne’s great article. As usual, she’s peppered it with links to fantastic resources and examples for both the beginning and seasoned writer.

13 thoughts on “Small is beautiful”

  1. I agree that you have to make every word count and that, frankly, people’s attention spans have grown quite short (including mine, I’m ashamed to admit). As far as selling goes, shorter can be better; not only do modern readers desire a quick read but portability helps them better fit reading into their busy lives. However, it’s also important to find the right length for the story you’re trying to tell. Not all plots can fit in a novella without sacrificing quality! It’s a tricky balance that writers have always struggled with and will continue to struggle with as readers’ preferences change.

    I admire flash fiction writers. The form still baffles me but reading it and attempting to write it has helped me tighten my short stories and think more about word choice. I don’t know if I’ll ever write a successful piece of flash fiction but continuing the practice, at least in private, will do my writing a load of good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. pictishprincess,

      By all means continue to challenge yourself. As you say, it’s a tricky balancing act, but that’s the fun of it!


  2. So interesting and it makes sense in many ways that our fast-paced world would want faster, shorter books. I can’t imagine writing novellas, but I can see writing shorter books and perhaps lengthening a series. Hmm. Lots to think about!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great article–and I totally agree. Flash fiction is a medium well worth exploring, if only for how it will benefit your longer works. And I’m trying to dial in the depth of story needed for novellas. Thus far, I’ve only written shorts, novelettes, and novels. But I’ll get there. 🙂


  4. Understanding the changing tastes of readers is important for today’s authors. Everything feels like it is moving faster and faster. It would be interesting to see what page count sells the most.


  5. This makes total sense. You’re right. Most of my chapters are short, and I find that people keep coming back for more, and even friends who don’t read at all, tell me they’re reading 10 chapters in a day.

    Originally, my idea was for book 1 to be the whole of 2016. Now, I’m thinking maybe it will have to be half. Book 2 the other half.

    I’d much appreciate feedback and any ideas that occur to you!


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