I know, I know. I've been horrible at keeping up this blog. To say that my summer has been positively awful would be an understatement. As a result, I've fallen way behind on my work. Insert colorful curse words here. Needless to say, I'm going to have to put off my summer project indefinitely. I still plan on doing it at some point, but right now is just not a good time. Hopefully my wonderful readers will not be too disappointed.
My current project is a novella, or rather trying to finish one with a deadline looming over my head. Originally, I had planned on submitting a novella that was already written and polished. What I failed to realize was that there was a word count limit for the competition I was planning on entering it in. Now, at one point in time, a novella was anything that was more than 10,000 words and less than 100,000 words. A short story was 10,000 words or less. My novella is 62,000 words and the word count is at maximum 35,000 words. I wasted a week just butchering my novella in the attempt to meet that word count and making it an incredibly shoddy story. By hacking out huge bits of it, I lost a lot of the nuance and emotion that I think make it a strong story. I finally gave up because I prefer having a strong story.
Okay, now this may be one of my more controversial opinions, but these insanely low word counts and redefinitions of the different kinds of writing are positively asinine. Nowadays, you're lucky if you can find an editor that will buy a story over 1,000 words. A good friend of mine told me something along the lines of "a story takes as long as it takes". This is something I've always believed: some stories just need 500 words, others need 50,000 or even 500,000. I can't read most modern fiction because I feel most writers are trying to meet word counts rather than tell stories. I happen to be more at ease writing long form and my word counts are high by today's standards. Does this mean they're poor quality? I don't think so.
Now I know the argument is that editors don't want to be reading epics and don't have time to read long works, particularly if they're shoddy. Fair enough, I can understand that point of view. However, assuming each and every reader has the attention span of a fruit fly is just as detrimental to writing and writers as well. If the only two choices out there are novels or flash fiction, how are we ever going to appreciate short stories? Actual short stories, the kinds that have word counts over 2,500.
I realize that this whole redefinition process has a lot to do with money and perhaps that's part of where my hatred stems from. Not only does this insistence on low word counts screw the reader, it screws the writers too. I can't help but wonder how many truly great short stories we would have lost had these ridiculous guidelines been in place when they were written.
Understand, I'm not knocking flash fiction. If that's what you're most comfortable with, more power too you. I'm sure there's some fantastic flash fiction out there. That's not the only kind of writing there is though. Writers shouldn't have to butcher strong stories. Obviously we do need frequent editing and polishing, but when you're carving huge important bits out of your story, that's not right.
So what's the answer? As usual, there isn't one. When the arts become commerce, there will continue to be the kind of problems we see in the publishing industry. Low word counts mean writers are paid less. Good stories are sacrificed and money is made (or saved). As a result, fewer and fewer writers get a chance to shine.