Writing Tips – Word Count; Flash Fiction versus Short Story versus Novel

Issue #71
Blog # 11-2018
Section: Writing Tips
Blogger: Joseph Clay


Blog - Story Lengths

Last year ThunderHorse Publishing posted a blog about the length of flash fiction titled  Writing Tip – What is Flash Fiction and Why Write it? Since then we have had several questions regarding the different word counts for each classification.

The first thing to remember is when you write do not worry about word count. Instead follow your plot line and structure making sure you have all the elements of a well written story.

Once the manuscript is complete then figure out what classification your works will fall in.

This is important for several reasons. The type of book will play into your marketing strategy, how you price it, and who to market it to. For example, The Erotic Tales of Joe, one of my many works in progress, is a short story compilation. According to definition a short story has a word count between 3,500 and 7,500 words.

“One Date and Done” is pushing 30,000 words, which is a novella and to long for a short story so it was polled from the book.

Why does that matter? The reader is expecting something they can read in one sitting, only a few characters, and one single episode.

Below you will find a general break down of word count and a definition of each type of book or tale. Now these numbers are not in stone and each genre within each category has its on rules.

Flash Fiction (53 – 1,000 Words). Flash fiction also known as short, short stories, micro fiction or postcard fiction. These stories are extremely short and normally deal with a single event with one or two characters. The events are normally tragic but do not have to be.

Short Story (3,500 – 7,500 Words). A short story is basically fictional prose, written in a narrative style. However, the narrative style may either be first person or third, or whichever the author chooses.

The short story is one of the most common forms of writing and does not usually involve major twists and conflicts, and involvement of various sub-plots and multiple characters is not common.

Traditionally, short stories were meant to be read in a single sitting. They are usually published individually in magazines and then collected and published in a collection.

[Bloggers note: The words “novel,” “novelette,” and “novella” come from the Italian word “novella,” feminine of “novello,” which means “new.”]

Novelette (7,500 – 17,000 Words). A novelette is also a narrative fictional prose. Back in the day, the term “novelette” referred to a story that was romantic or sentimental in character.

[Bloggers note: Novelette’s are a thing of the past and the term is hardly used. This is where you can fudge on your numbers and expand the Short Story and Novella count. What I have done is subtracted the Novelette beginning count from the end count which equals  9,500. Divide that by two and we get 4,750 words. We add 4,750 words to our Short Story end count of 7,500 and that will give us a new end count of 12,250. As you will see the beginning count for a Novella is 17,000. From that we subtract the 4,750 and we get, 12,500  for a beginning count. Now we have the Short Story count at (3,500 – 12,250 Words) and the Novella count at (12,500 – 40,000 Words)]

Novella (17,000 – 40,000 Words). Novellas have been called a long short story or a short novel. It can involve multiple sub-plots, twists, and characters. Its length constraints mean you’ll find fewer conflicts in a novella than you will in a novel, but there will also be more nuance and complication not found in a short story.

Novellas are more often focused on one character’s personal and emotional development rather than with large-scale issues. Unlike novels, novellas are usually not divided into chapters, and like short stories, they are often meant to be read in one sitting.

They are considered to be an awkward length and it may be more difficult to get a novella published. The internet is turning that around as an eBook really doesn’t take length in to consideration where traditional publishing (paper and hardback) do and use length to determine if it is feasible (price wise) to print.

Most erotic tales are nothing more than Novellas.

Novel (40,000 – Plus Words). The novel is one of the more common works of fiction. A novel often involves multiple major characters, sub-plots, conflicts, points of view, and twists. Due to its considerable length, a novel is meant to be read over a period of days.

[Bloggers note: Here is where things get messy. The word count of a novel is really questionable. The only main rule that seems to be firm is the minimum word count needs to be greater than 40,000 words. This is also where the different genres came in to play. Some editors often consider a novel has a word count between 80,000 – 120,000. Romance novels, however, can be shorter than that and fantasy, horror, and science fiction usually see works of greater lengths.]

I hope the information provided in this blog answered the questions about word count for each type of book. Like all rules in writing, they can be broken. However be careful which ones you stretch and which ones you break.

Remember there is a story in everyone’s soul begging to came out. What is your story and who better to tell it than you.


©2018 ThunderHorse Publishing



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