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  • J. J. Hanna

Finding the Right Format for the Story

The wonderful has happened. You've had a brilliant idea and you're ready to sit down and write it. You've thought it all out. You know the plot. You know the characters. You've done all the character interviews you could find and know your characters enneagram and Meyers Briggs personality types.

But when you open the document to begin, you realize you're not sure if a novel is the right format. But what other formats are there?

That's where I come in. Let me introduce you to my friends: Flash Fiction, Short Story, Screenplay, Poetry, Children's Book, and Novella.

Ah! No! I can't try something new! I don't know how to do that! What if I mess it up and waste my time?

Whoa, whoa, whoa . . . calm down. Whatever you write will need edited anyway (this is a fact of nature, almost like the law of gravity). You will be okay. You can make the changes. Just get the story written, first.

Flash Fiction

This is a form of writing I wasn't very aware of until I came to college and learned that a lot of what I write actually fits in this category. Flash Fiction is a really short short story. Aim for 500-1000 words. The trick with this, however, is that you still need to tell a full story. Whose story you tell determines where your story ends. You have space for one plot line and limited space for characters. Use the space wisely.

This works really well for stories of the "one shot" variety. There's typically one setting and you can get a full story without many words.

Short Story

This form is one we tend to be familiar with but not good at. We wrote it in middle school or high school for a Language Arts class and haven't touched it since because we didn't enjoy it then. I urge you to try this format again. Read some of the great short stories and learn where your boundaries are for this format (hint: the sky is the limit. If you can say it in 3-10 thousand words, you can do it).

Short stories must have a moral or a lesson. No one wants to read about an ordinary person for five pages unless that person wasn't so ordinary after all. Teach the reader something with this work of fiction.


Writers have a tendency to compare writing novels (or reading novels, for that matter) to watching a movie. It's how we know we're "in the writing zone." But, have you considered actually making that movie in your mind possible through a script? The tricky part with this is toning back the details you give. Don't insult the actors, directors, or camera crew by over instructing. Scripts tend to be mostly dialogue, so use that to its fullest extent. Let the emotions be extremely clear through word choice and punctuation.

For help with formatting, check out Celtx. It's how I've been writing the script I'm working on.


This is another format you probably had to attempt in a middle school or high school Language Arts class. Then, you were probably introduced to all of the different types of form poetry you can write. Some people need that. I find that for me, with the exception of rare occasions, the form stunts my creativity for the sake of controlled art. I have yet to write an actual poem-esk form poem. I can, however, and greatly enjoy, freeform poetry. Write what sounds like poetry to your ears. Say what you need to say how you need to say it, read it out loud and look for the cadence and rhythm. Where do you want people to pause? What do you want to emphasize?

Children's Book

What were your favorite books growing up? Why did you like them? What's selling now? (Go do research by walking into a book store and going straight to the children's section and reading as many books as you can grab. Feel like a kid again. Enjoy yourself.) Could you write something like them? Would your story work in this format instead? Did you get any other ideas? Try it. And then try telling the story in rhyme, since a publisher may ask for either format and you probably want to get this published.


The lesser-loved half sister to the novel. Your story is too long to be a short story, but it's too short to qualify as a novel. So what is it? It's a novella. There is a market for these, and it's a good way to tell a story.

Moral of the story: Don't force your story to be a novel if it doesn't want to be.

Now go forth and write. Tell awesome stories and let me know what you've written! I hope to hear from you soon.


J. J. Hanna is a Professional Writing major at Taylor University. She loves writing crime fiction, suspense, and thrillers, and in her free time practices Karate at a local dojo and makes Youtube videos.

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