Story Length- Does Size Matter?

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Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn't planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

“Make the story as long as it needs to be.” The words from my writing coach echoed in my mind when I began my journey writing romance and continues to help me with each story as it evolves.

Storytelling is an art form that requires writers to let the tale unfold the way it needs to. Resisting can influence the quality of the final execution. I have been in situations where I tried to pound a story to fit into specific word counts, mainly based on my own capricious standards or a publisher’s guidelines. The story almost always pushed back, leaving me to streamline and coax it into the required length. Sometimes it worked–but not always.

Romance readers like a range of book lengths. Many romance authors write and expanse of works, ranging from short stories to novels. I decided that if I wanted to connect with a breadth of readers, I needed to offer shorter and longer reads. While writing, I have encountered situations when I had to accept that a story was not going to fit whatever length parameters I set for it.

I initially struggled to pare down my novels in my premiere romance series, Brothers in Law. The first book, My Way to You, is over 90k words. I wanted to write the next book, Sweet Love, Bitter Fruit shorter, making it more accessible to readers looking for a lighter read.

I set a limit of 70k words. However, the story demanded more page space. I realized that the story of Marcus and Toni’s struggle with infertility and social demands needed more page space. I could not do the characters justice, as individuals and a couple, unless I fleshed out their perspectives. I let go of that arbitrary number and allowed the protagonists to tell their stories. I’m glad I did.

Many readers expressed (some reached out to me directly) how they connected with the characters:

I was touched by the struggle with infertility, and I thought it was handled beautifully-with raw truth. – Amazon Reviewer

Instead of playing on their love, Williams plays on the human emotions that can affect any relationship. – Amazon Reviewer

I loved and hated this novel because I could see all the emotions and the love in each person in this story.  – Amazon Reviewer

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I encountered a similar situation with word count limits as I wrote Queen of the Castle, the second book in the Open to Love series. I wanted to show the dynamics of how the main characters Tarika and Aqil interacted with each other and how it shifted as the became closer, which required more words than the publisher’s 30k limit. I reviewed the draft a few times, trying to streamline the plot so I complied, but I couldn’t without it impacting the story for readers. Fortunately, the publisher accepted the book, and readers got hooked on this interesting and hot couple.

One of the first things many new authors do is to hit search engines to look up book length. Instead of focusing on the storytelling, we become obsessed with writing to fit the narrative into some arbitrary word count parameters—a novella is this many words, a novel is that. General guidelines end up influencing the writer, resulting in them either stripping down a plot to something that lacks sufficient development or adding “padding,” bogging it down.

Writers should allow themselves the freedom to draft narratives without things like page count or book form impeding their ability to share impactful and powerful stories with readers.

Paste this on a wall:

Make the story as long as it needs to be.Make the story as long as it needs to be.

Let’s keep those keyboards clicking.

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7 thoughts on “Story Length- Does Size Matter?

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  1. Welcome to the IWSG, Lyndell! Your writing coach had great advice. I’m always high on the word count, so I struggle to eliminate words. Sometimes I think cutting, cutting improves my writing, and sometimes I think it guts it. Finding the right balance can be tough. Happy writing in August!

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