It matters, doesn’t it?
Length manipulates how words are perceived and influences the pacing of a story.
When it comes to writing, there are a number of different units that length can be measured by; Words, Sentences, Paragraphs, Pages, Chapters, Parts/Sections, Books/Volumes, etc.
Any kind of measurement signifies an opportunity to practice craft.
The lengths we gravitate towards express our personal aesthetic. For instance, not everyone aesthetically likes short sentences, while others prefer it over anything else. These aesthetics aren’t genre-bound, but instead overlap and cross genres.
The writer’s style and their readers inform this aesthetic more than the setting and theme of their story; thus, we can find fantasies that have varying lengths, supernatural romances that are long or short, there is a range in each genre.
Flash fiction provides an excellent learning opportunity for length. Short stories accommodate practicing long word/sentence/paragraph styles against short word/sentence/paragraph styles.
As an exercise; Choose a specific length (long, medium, short, variety mix) for your intention, then write the story in that predetermined style. After finishing, examine it and see how you respond aesthetically.
Another way to exercise awareness of length is to develop a short story, but rewrite the story in the opposite style then the initial draft. For example, if you wrote a story with short sentences, but long paragraphs – when you rewrite it, change the short sentences into long ones and make the paragraphs short instead of long.
Play with different combinations to explore personal limitations and aesthetic preferences.
Imagine, if you will… A Matryoshka doll.
Length in Writing is, basically, a Matryoshka doll. The biggest doll is the overarching length of your complete body of work and the smallest doll is the shortest snippet of the smallest piece (lengthy or brief words?).
Now, this means people can have different sized dolls and there is a wide range of combinations to be explored. As it should be. There’s nothing that demands each and every writer must produce and maintain the exact same amount of work as the next.
My experience with length has focused on the exercises mentioned above. Last year, most of my time was spent on practicing long, rolling sentences that stretched on and on, combined with short paragraphs. This was inspired by a short story by Mary Caponegro that involved 2-5 long sentence paragraphs. Incorporating this into my work and looking back on it, this year I switched to focusing on brief sentences that get to a single/layered point fast with minimal pillowing to comfort the reader.
Reasonably, this coming year I will be focusing on mixing the two styles together or practicing a compromised medium version. I haven’t exactly decided my aesthetic yet, but I enjoy myself more when I’m writing shorter paragraphs instead of longer. However, writing momentum builds faster when I employ lengthy sentences.
There are also macro-scope lengths such as chapters and sections.
I equate the length of chapters to ocean waves – and prefer to strive for a rolling feel that doesn’t tsunami the reader with longer chapters at the end of the book or cause a rocking sensation from having the chapters get shorter towards the conclusion.
There are rhythmic patterns to these overarching lengths that provide opportunities for the writer to practice different techniques of engaging a reader’s subconscious.
Length in writing is closely related to pacing within plot, but they are not the same in the context of this post. Any kind of length can support or detract from pacing, it’s up to the writer and their aesthetic to figure out which supports their intention best.
Even so, I wanted to share some Internet links that may be of some help in regards to pacing/structure that mention length as well; 7 Tools for Pacing A Novel, Pacing Dialogue and Action Scenes, 5 Ways to Pace Your Story, Fiction Writers Mentor Pacing, Fiction Factor Pacing, Bad Pacing as a Content Issue and How to Fix It (WP), Pacing with Words, How to Know if your Pacing is Too Fast/Slow, Suspense Pacing in Fiction.
What lengths do you prefer? Are there any novels that demonstrate your aesthetic?