How Long is a Story?

Guest Post by James Wymore.

James Wymore grew up on a heavy diet of movies and books that morphed his real life adventures into imaginary worlds. His james-wymore-bwpublished works span the fiction spectrum, including many different genres in the best-selling Actuator series. He’s an acquisitions manager for Immortal Works Press and can often be found at conventions running games with hundreds of players.

One thing about writing that I never liked is the endless counting and sorting of stories. I just wanted to write great fiction. Then I found out it has to be classified by genre, sorted by audience age, and submitted by word count. All of these ways to dissect narrative bothered me from the beginning. Is Star Wars a sci-fi or fantasy? Is The Lord of the Rings for teens or adults? If I write 17,503 words, it’s a novella. But if I take six of them out, it’s only a short story.

I wanted to write for everybody, teen or adult. I liked stories to span all the genres. Most of all, I couldn’t accept arbitrary word numbers as a hard-fast rule for what gets published where. So I imagined a different kind of story-world. What came out of it is the Actuator series. Literally spanning every major genre for all audiences, I wanted a world expressed by characters of all types, which meant many different story lengths. Only it rapidly became clear I was in way over my head. So I put it aside and wrote something else less complicated.

When I met Aiden James, co-author for two of the books in the series, he offered to help me work through it. The idea intrigued him.

The Actuator, a machine capable of literally changing reality, was created to make a utopian paradise. Before it happened, a saboteur used it to transform the world into patches of every kind of genre fiction, scattering the keys necessary to put it back across the globe. Everyone alive found their lives radically altered, some living in fantasy realms with real magic and others in incomprehensible horrors. Thrown into chaos, people struggled against aliens, pirates, orcs, and vampires. Many died. Only a handful of people on the planet, called Machine Monks, even knew why it happened or how. Now they have to put it all back before humanity is destroyed.

As the first book (Fractured Earth) came together, I realized we were just telling one story in a whole planet covered with broken and altered lives. Other authors began to express interest in the setting and even said they had ideas for stories set in this world. I had my hands full keeping track of the dozen or so characters in what was rapidly becoming an epic. So I approached my publisher, Curiosity Quills Press, and pitched the idea of a short story collection to them. I loved that they were willing to publish something outside the box—this box being standard genre, age, and word counts. They agreed, and I became the “editor.” We made guidelines and opened to submissions. Then I just waited, wondering if anybody would even want to play in somebody else’s sandbox.

The response was overwhelming! I had stories set all over the world, from authors all over the world. The depth of ideas blew me away. The stories spanned the genres in all different sizes. What shocked me most, was how much it expanded my own understanding of the milieu I’d created. Reviews agreed, the tight theme improved the collection (Borderlands Anthology).

I wrote the next book in the series (Return of the Saboteur), incorporating some of the characters and ideas from those fantastic stories into the main storyline. However, once it came out, it felt like the main plot was too narrow. There were so many characters scattered across the world that weren’t getting page time.

Again I turned to my author friends and asked if any of them would be interested in picking up any of these loose threads. Several jumped at the opportunity. Some came back with novellas. All of them fleshed out secondary characters in ways that made me realize I needed them back in the main story line. Although it started as an anthology, I realized these stories had to be part of the super-plot because I needed all of them for the climax at the end. So we changed this book (Chaos Chronicles) to be book 3 and I steered the final book in a new and even more amazing direction.

So how long is a story? Some of the stories in this series are only 1,000 words. However, the whole series is really just one story as it affects billions of people. It’s really half a million words spread between genres and carried by many authors to become something larger. I know it won’t change how the industry rates and classifies books. Still, it proves what I always thought. Genre, audience, and word counts should just be guides. Authors shouldn’t be penalized for telling the stories they love because it doesn’t fit in a neat marketing box. I have a couple dozen authors that seem to agree with me, too.

I guess the old cliché is true—write what you love. Let the readers sort it out.

If you’d like to read some of this huge, crazy, and fun project, the first two books and the anthology will be on sale for just 99 cents each on Thursday and Friday, December 15 and 16. Book 3, Chaos Chronicles, just came out this week. The last book is in editing and scheduled to come out in 2017.


The Actuator Series:

Borderlands Anthology

1 – Fractured Earth

2 – Return of the Saboteur

3 – Chaos Chronicles


Jennifer Bennett

About Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer J. Bennett was born in Southern California as the youngest of six children. Her imagination began to develop as a child creating worlds in her backyard. Books have always played a big role in her life; favorites growing up were “The Country Bunny” by Dubose Heyward, “The Light in the Attic”by Shel Silverstein, and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’ Dell among many, many others. She also enjoys music, theater, travel, and cooking.

Jennifer moved from Southern California in 1989 and finished high school in Southern Utah where she met her husband Matthew Bennett who currently works in educational administration. They reside in St. George, Utah with four amazing kids: Haylee, Chase, Conner, and Libby. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, she began writing her first novel, “The Path”. Her father encouraged her to move forward with her writing and she has continued since. He passed away in 2009.

Jen, as her friends call her; can be found buzzing around California from time to time in search of magical elements from the past. She tries to balance fun, being a mom, and trying to be a grownup (which she really isn’t sure she ever wants to be).

Visit Jen’s blog at: