Of Mice and Men is one of Steinbeck’s most known works. It has been made into several movies, a play, and has been read in high schools and colleges across the country.
It’s also, in a word, short.
In these days when fantasy novels stretch to 12+ volumes of 1200 pages each, and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and The Historian stretch out over 800 pages, a short novel is almost a relief. You can read it and finish it within a few days and have a totally satisfying experience.
What struck me about Of Mice and Men was the level of control that Steinbeck maintained. There was nothing about this story that wasn’t structured to have an impact. The parallels he created in such a small space of pages only served to make the gunshot at the end that much louder. Every scene was deliberate. Every response intentional. And I didn’t think about it while I was reading it, I just went right along with the characters.
Over the last couple years or so, I’ve been working on a fairly short novel. While I’m starting to think there’s too much that I’ve forced into the small space, it was a great learning experience. I played with characters and plot and scenes. It weighs in at about 50,000 words, which I think is right around where Of Mice and Men is…only mine is no Of Mice and Men. But I did get a lot out of working on something so short that I couldn’t have otherwise.
I managed to finish an actual novel. I wrote a lot. I revised a lot. (It could use more.) Short is less scary, but I’ve discovered it doesn’t take less work. Steinbeck could not have gotten the smoothness and deliberateness of Lenny and George’s story without lots of work. At least, for me, a shorter word-count goal made me feel more accomplished! My first novel weighed in at a fantasy-epic novel word count, and I didn’t touch a word of it for revision purposes.
Have you ever written something larger than your ability level? Have you tried writing something shorter? Do you find longer novels more satisfying? Does size really matter?
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.