Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Can an author of 90,000-word novels write a 1500-word short story?

I would dearly love to enter this contest. It's for short stories of any genre, set during or in the days leading up to the Battle of Waterloo, with all proceeds going toward restoration of the battlefield in preparation for the 200th anniversary of the battle in June 2015.

On the surface, this looks perfect for me. I own something like five books on Waterloo alone, plus multiple biographies of Wellington and Napoleon, general histories of the Napoleonic Wars, analyses of the French and British armies of the era, etc. I'm planning to be there for the 200th anniversary--I've already got most of the money for the trip set aside and everything.

Problem is, the upper limit on word count is 1500 words. I don't know that I can think in that length. That's an awfully short space to develop a character and a plot, or even to describe an incident, especially for an author whose shortest-ever manuscript clocked in right around 90,000 words.

Still, I'd like to enter, and I don't want to enter some half-assed effort that won't even have a chance at the prize. I mean, I could just send a donation for the battlefield restoration (and may well do so regardless, because history, and preserving history, MATTER to me). But if I'm going to compete, my goal is to win.

So, with that in mind...what makes a good 1500-word story? Any author recommendations?


  1. You should go for it, Susanna! At the very least, it sounds like it would be a great opportunity for you to try something new. :)

    I'm not a short story writer either, but I did take a short story class at university. Basically, you're only going to be able to write one or possibly two scenes with such a low word count. If you think about how scenes function in longer stories--they have their own mini story arcs, right? So, maybe a starting point could be thinking about your process for writing one scene in a novel (maybe even an opening scene): how you convey information to the reader and how do you get them interested quickly?

    A good angle might be to just write a really interesting conversation between two or three people that tells a little story on its own. Ernest Hemingway does this in "Hills Like White Elephants," which clocks in at just under 1500 words. Here's a link to the story online:


    Like I said, I am NOT an expert, so feel free to toss my advice if you want. I won't take it personally. :)

    Good luck! If you are happy with what you write, I hope you post it here so we can read it.

  2. Thanks, Annabella! I like the idea of making it a conversation, since I enjoy writing dialog. Hm...the possibilities...