I was talking with junoxxiv recently about how picture books and easy readers are the length of short stories, but arc like novels. She asked me what this meant–I answered in comments, but realized this would be worth expanding into a post of it’s own–especially since this is something I’m still working out myself.

It’s a hard thing to describe, and one I still know more by feel and intuition than by logic. But it has to do with the distance gone. A short story will take me maybe to a small point of change, to the beginning of a transformation. A novel–whether 100 words or 100,000, takes me through the entire transformation, and out the other side.

Which is still sort of oversimplifying, and there are exceptions both ways.

Someone, I wish I could remember who, described writing a picture book as being like crossing a ravine on a tightrope. When you’re writing a 100,000 word novel, you’re crossing that same ravine, or one like it–only now you have ropes and grappling hooks, and time for accidental plunges down side canyons. But you’re ultimately heading for the same place.

And even on a tightrope, the rope’s gonna sag in the middle, and there are going to be challenges along the way, and you’re going to need luck or grace or cleverness or hard work or something to get to the other side.

While if I were writing a short story, I’d still be going through with ropes and grappling hooks–but I wouldn’t be going to the other side–I’d be climbing down to a lookout point beneath the rim, maybe–which would take as much time as crossing on tightrope, but wouldn’t get me to the same place.

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