Does size matter? It’s a question I ask about writing all the time. Looking at the book shelves in your local store it’s hard not to ask yourself this question if you’re a writer. It seems like every book printed today is part of a series—3 books, 4 books, 5 books, more. And each book in the series is four hundred plus pages. Even books that aren’t part of a series would take up much of the needed space in a budding writer’s apartment for, say, a couch.
So I ask myself if my stories are too short, or if they’re long enough. I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the same questions about your stories. It might even be on your mind while you’re writing. I know I have to shake myself sometimes when I’m writing to get those types of thoughts to settle down.
Let’s talk about your writing. Specifically the question of if a scene is long enough. Because when you boil those six billion page epics down, they’re put together just like any other story, one scene after the other. So how can you tell if a scene is long enough?
First, I want to apologize for leading you into a false premise. Whether or not a scene is long enough or not is the wrong question—all together it is so the wrong question.
The question you should be asking yourself is if a scene is working.
There are many ways that a scene doesn’t work. First, you could look at a scene, and it gets across all the information you need it to, but it’s not interesting—more like a shopping list than a scene. Another way a scene might not work is if it doesn’t accomplish anything. For example, a scene does not have to move the plot/story forward as long as it reveals something about the characters involved. So a scene could not move the plot along or reveal anything about the characters, in which case the scene isn’t working. Let’s not forget about world building and atmosphere building. If you’re going to describe the setting for a page and a half it better be doing one or the other—or the scene isn’t working.
Here’s a tip/technique, something I do, to make sure a scene is working. I don’t edit myself when I’m writing that first draft of a story. I write and write, and I don’t stop to change a word (unless I notice it’s misspelled); I don’t stop to re-read what I just wrote. Basically I don’t self-edit during that first, initial writing. Editing is for the editing process, and trust me there’s going to be a lot of that later on so don’t worry about it the first time around. Believe it or not, this is harder than it sounds. It takes some getting used to, but it helps get everything out before it swishes away. Then it’s just a matter of writing until the scene feels finished. Nine times out of ten it’s a good scene that works.
This is just one way to do it. Some people write a sentence and don’t move on until that sentence is perfect. The same rule of: write until the scene feels finished applies though.
To sum up: don’t worry about length during that first blush of writing. Write a scene until it feels finished.
I think that’s your lot. Until next time: Be yourself, be well. Write yourself, write well.