There is no hard and fast about how long should a short story be: they can vary in sizes. Some might call a 30,000-word book a short story, and others might consider a single page story to be a short story. Both are right. Short stories can vary a lot in sizes, depending on their genre. It is left to you to decide what genre does your story belongs to.
Let us look through all of this to understand how long should a short story be. And more importantly – why does the length of a story matter so much in the world of writing?
Why Is The Length of a Story Important?
In writing, you have the freedom to write a story of whichever length you want. The number of words is your choice. But when you plan to get your story out in the real world, all of it matters. You might be writing ‘for yourself,’ but you’re publishing it for the people. When it comes to traditional publishing, you’ll need to follow a whole set of guidelines – typically for beginners in writing.
Apart from publishing, the length of the story also matters to your readers. Here are the reasons why the range of a story is significant:
1. Readers don’t trust new authors
Considering you are a newbie to the industry, readers just don’t trust your writing. Unless you make it engaging, of course.
By making it too long, you can exceed the reader’s attention span. If you make it too short, you will end up with a microfiction. Typically, one ends up writing a short story longer than required – most of the time. But if you’re dragging the tale further, make sure to keep it engaging.
Short stories are always meant to be read in one sitting, so keep it that way.
It’s a whole art when it comes to keeping people waiting for the next part. If you want to kickstart with writing short stories, go for an online course on it. There are tons of them out there. Here is a decent one on Udemy: Writing Short Stories: The Essential Guide
2. Your audience expectation
There are people that would read long manuscripts. Again, if you are new, they might not go for reading it. One of the best ways to build trust is by letting them know the word count of the story.
With that, your readers will know exactly what they’re expecting, and thus that can attract more readers.
3. Marketing your book
It was always easier to market short books. You might have a higher chance of publishing your long manuscript if you are Dan Brown because traditional publishers do not take chances with lengthy books that cost a lot from new writers.
It becomes more expensive as the number of pages gets larger and needs more money for it. However, if you are trying to self-publish your story, you’re taking all chances into your own hands. Thus word count becomes very important when you go for self-publishing.
Categorizing short stories based on Word Length
While the key to making a short story a ‘short’ story – the primary aim of it is keeping your reader engaged – it can be of a number of sizes based on their categorization. Here are the ones that we come across:
1. Traditional short stories
Traditional short stories should generally be in the range of 1500 words to 7000 words. But anything over 1000 words and under 10000 words can fall into this section.
A microfiction, as the name suggests, is the shortest form of short stories that can have around 400 words. They can also be called microstories.
3. Immediate Fiction
Immediate Fiction is also referred to as sudden fiction or more popularly known as Flash Fiction. Flash Fiction can range anywhere from 500 words to 1000 words. Some might argue that all of these short-short stories (micro fiction and flash fiction) fall into the same category of short stories and can be termed as a whole as Flash Fiction.
A Novella is the longest form of a short story. Or in other words, it can be a short novel. A novella should be about 17000 to 40000 words. Anything below this range but above the traditional short story (up to 5000 words) can be considered a novelette.
There are other small details that differ a novella from a novelette, you can read them here.
Novels and Short Stories
Anything longer than a novella is considered a novel. Sure, a story can be a novel if it goes over 40000 words. But an average novel should have 50000 words or more.
Similar to novellas and novelettes, a short story and a novella have their own contrasts to deal with. They have their discrete set of differences.
How long should a short story be?
An average short story can range from 1500 words to 7000 words. But it can stretch up to 10000 words.
Anything shorter than 1000 words goes into the category of flash fiction or microfiction.
I read another post where the author made a neat analysis of the best of short stories from well-known authors and pulled out the average of the word count from it. The result gives a round figure for the best short length as 5000 words. But I’d suggest you check it out as well. It’s a pretty cool analysis if you ask me.
Keep in mind that however long a short story is, it should engage a reader. If you write a 3000-word story when you intended to make it of 5000 words, don’t try and drag it. Readers can tell when you pad out your story.
And if it so happens that it gets much longer than you assumed it to be – don’t try to make it short either. When the words flow from you, let it express itself. While the length of a short story is important, it shouldn’t be your first priority when you write.
Let it be short stories or novels, they are not less effective than the other. In fact, a short story can have more impact on the reader and deliver a strong message than a novel.
Apart from length, a lot more counts when it comes to writing a short story. Even ending the short story in the right way matters,
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