Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. Previously, I talked about the advantages of writing short stories and participating in anthologies. Today, I’ll cover story length and the various definitions used in fiction. Later, I’ll pose a question.
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There are several terms to define works of fiction based upon the length of the story. Check a dozen sources and you will likely get a dozen different answers but here is a general consensus of story type as defined by word count.
- Micro Fiction is a subset of flash fiction and is generally defined as any story told in 300 words or less.
- Flash Fiction—stories up to 1,000 words (some say up to 1,500 words). Virginia Wolfe’s A Haunted House (710 words)and Mark Twain’s A Telephonic Conversation (810 words) fall into the flash fiction category.
- Short Stories are usually between 5,000 and 10,000 words but can be defined as anything between 1K and 10K. Examples of short stories are Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway (1500 words) and The Swimmer by John Cheever (5,000 words).
- Novelettes are works between 7,500 and 17,000 words. Consider these well-known classics. Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe (11,000 words) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (17,000 words)
- Novellas are between 17,000 – 40,000 words. Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (28,000 words) and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (29,000 words) are two examples.
- Novels are generally defined as a word count between 80,000 and 100,000. While anything above 40K can fall within the category of novel, the general consensus is a minimum of 50K words for adult fiction.
As you know there are many genres within the fiction world and there is a recommended word count for each.
- Mystery, suspense, or thriller—70,000 to 90,000.
- Science fiction/fantasy—90,000 to 120,000.
- Romance novels range from as short as 50K and as long as 100K. (The larger word count is considered high-end and isn’t common.)
- Historical fiction tends to be close to 100K words.
- Young Adult novels—20,000 to 50,000.
- Middle grade (ages 8-12)—20,000 to 50,000 with a shorter count for younger readers.
- Children’s books (for ages up to seven) are usually between 1K and 10K words.
It’s important to note these are general guidelines. However, if you seek traditional publishing, you should stay within the recommended word count. Most consider anything longer than 110K too long for fiction. A notable exception is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy with the longest being 175K. However, epic sagas such as these are rare.
Now to pose a question. How long should your story be?
First, I’ll answer with a couple of questions. Can you tell it in 10K words? Consider a short story. Do you need 80K? Definitely a novel.
What about a story that’s already reached over 100,000 words and you’re still not finished? First, look for scenes, sections, or even entire chapters that you can cut. Watch for repetitive passages. If you feel you can’t cut anything, then consider writing a series. In my next post, I’ll cover that topic.
How long should your story be? As long as it takes to write a compelling story that will keep readers interested. Never be guilty of adding unnecessary words just to achieve a certain word count. You’ll only bore your audience. Keep in mind most people have shorter attention spans these days, so make every word count.
What’s your take on story length? As a reader, do you prefer shorter or longer books?