September 25, 2011

why 3000?

"do you know that more murders are committed at 92 degrees farenheit than any other temperature?
i read an article once.
lower temperatures, people are easy going.
over 92, it's too hot to move.
but just 92, people get irritable."
--- Siouxsie and the Banshees

Occasionally, we get a query asking why our prose word limit is 3,000 words. If you're not doing flash stuff, say, less than 1,500 words, who writes that short? The average short-story length, apparently, is about seventeen pages - maybe 6,000 words or so. And most journals cap their prose limit at 7,500 words or so - say twenty-five pages. So what's with the 3,000?

A few overlapping thoughts:

1. Practicalities: on a staff of dedicated volunteers, with a process whereby we read each story in its entirety, and we promise a quick turnaround time, with a limited page count devoted to prose, it makes sense to publish shorter stories. If we published longer stories, we'd have the following problems:
3 times fewer stories published
2-3 times for story turnaround (or similar turnaround times, but less attention paid to each story)
So this kind of word count ensures that your story is getting a complete, full reading and that we'll get back to you quickly.

2. History of the short story: Has the average length of the short story changed over time? Of course. Why? Economic concerns, attention spans, notions of what does or does not constitute a short story (read Lydia Davis' Varieties of Disturbance lately?) all affect the general length of stories. Yes, it's much harder to get a 7,500 word story published now than it was ten years ago (though of course there were fewer journals then, too). Is 3,000 a kind of liminal space between flash fiction and "traditional" short story? Most definitely. That's where the fun is.

3. Possibility Space and Constraint: In that vein, I encourage people to think about how "traditional" notions of the short story must be deformed when writing shorter forms. It's very, very difficult to write a character and plot driven short story in 3,000 words - there's just not enough time (an example of a really nice "traditional" story in that length might be Stacey Swann's Crib Biting (V8)). So what can you do? What new forms, what new concerns might open up for you? That's what interests us.

If you don't feel like writing short, that's great - I myself am often writing 30-page stories. So while I'm a proponent of short work, I'm not fanatic about it. I am, however, riven by fascination, by mutation, by defacement - and that's one of the things that short forms allow us.



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