Form Follows Function

Posted: October 6, 2016 by ajbrown in Writing
Tags: , , , ,

Many of writers start out writing short form fiction and we enjoy it. We can write a story in three to ten thousand words and get that sense of accomplishment. The stories are shorter and quicker to write than novels, but they are full on stories. It’s exhilarating to write three short stories in a five day span.

Then one day someone says you should write a novel, or you see another writer you know has written a novel and you think, ‘yeah, I should write one of those.’ That is when you get the notion you have to write novels in order to tell a story.

Maybe you should.

Maybe you shouldn’t.

Let me explain, and I’m not really sure what I am about to write, so stick with me. My brain has latched onto something and it doesn’t seem to want to let go. It’s like that dog with the clamp for jaws.

If you are a writer or if you are friends with one (or many), then you have probably posted something or seen a post on social media where a writer mentions the word count on their current WIP (Work In Progress). The post may read something like:

32K down, 68K to go.

In case you are not a writer and you wonder what this means, it is not code for anything. The post means the writer has written thirty-two thousand words and has another sixty-eight thousand words to go before he/she meets his/her goal of one hundred thousand words, thus finishing the ‘story’ he/she is writing.

This has always bugged me and I’ll tell you why. When I set out to write, I set out to tell a story with no definitive word count in mind. I just know the story will have at least one word and hopefully a few more before it is said and done. I never set a word goal for my stories—this is restricting in my opinion. But it is also daunting. How, you ask? Well, let me break it down for you.

1. Restricting: if I want to write a short story and I give myself a word count of three thousand words, then I restrict the length and depth of the story. That is like me saying I can fit ten gallons of water into a five gallon jug. It’s just not going to happen. I don’t want my stories to be restricted by a small word count. And if you know me, then you understand I can be long winded. That’s not to say I can’t write something in three thousand words or less—I have, many, many times. But I don’t set a word count as a limit or a goal.

On the other hand:

2. Daunting: if I want to write a story, then I don’t want to say it will be five or ten or twenty or even one hundred thousand words. By doing so it becomes a mental issue for me. Instead of writing the story that needs to be written, I end up just writing a bunch of needless words to fill the word quota I put on myself. In essence, I pad the story with nothing useful, even if I think the words have a purpose. Who wants a lot of padding?

The mindset of writing to a word count baffles me. I don’t understand it. For me, I write until I reach the end of the story. If that means the story is two thousand words, then fine. If that means it is two hundred thousand words, then fine. The goal is not a number of words, but a complete story, from beginning to end. The word count doesn’t matter if the story sucks or if it is padded to the point the story gets lost.

This brings me to the concept of Form Follows Function. This is the principal that the shape and size of something (in architecture) is based on its intended function. With this in mind, if the function of something is to hold a lap top, then you wouldn’t make something the size of a 1970’s suitcase for it. Of course, that is not what Form Follows Function is really about, but the concept is the same.

That being said, this principal can be applied to writing as well. The function is to tell a story. The form? How many words are needed to tell the story, be it poem, flash fiction, short story, novella, novel, epic or series. I believe there is no word count to telling a story. There are words, and when added together, they form sentences. Those sentences then form paragraphs. Put enough of those paragraphs together and, eventually, you come to the end of your story. With that mindset, there is no fretting over either not meeting a word count goal or going over it. There is just the story.

Form Follows Function. Simple concept. The Form is, as I stated earlier, poem, flash fiction, short story, novella, novel, epic or series. The Function is to tell a story and to tell it in the right amount of words—not to write to an amount of words. to tell a story.

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

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