Let’s talk length. Story length. If I said, “I write short,” how many words do you think I like to write? It’s impossible to know. If someone said, “I write epics,” we probably all imagine science fiction novels, but we all definitely know epics are long.
Today, let’s talk about the various categories for story word counts. These are estimates. If a publisher’s guidelines for a short story says “5,000-10,000” words, that’s the word count to hit.
The word count range for micro-fiction is usually less than 100. And if you think it’s impossible to write that short, you haven’t seen the Hemingway 6-word micro-fiction story: “For Sale: Baby shoes. Never Worn.” Here are several other 6-word short stories.
My shortest published piece of fiction is 55 words. It’s a challenge to write a story in less than 100 words, but like learning how to converse on Twitter in 140 characters, it really helps you focus on what is important.
Flash fiction is generally 100 t0 1,000 words. This is a popular market – magazines use them to fill space, writers find flash fic stories quick to write, and readers enjoy how easy they are to devour. Humor is common for this length, but you can find markets for all genres. Writing a mystery in less than 1,000 words is fun. I think I have one that comes in at 999 words.
Short stories range roughly from 1,000 words to 7,500 words. This is the most common length for print and e-magazines, anthologies and contest submissions. You’re able to have some respectable character and world development, with a couple of red herrings and twists to keep the reader engaged. I know some writers consider each chapter of a novel a ‘short story’, so you can see how the length falls in line.
Novelettes are usually 7,500-20,000 words. This is the awkward cousin in this list. The length is too long (usually) for magazines, and too short (generally) for print publishers. But write three or four novelettes and you can have a novel, or perhaps you can find a publisher looking for serials, in which case a novelette can be printed in several installments.
Novellas are anywhere between 20,000 words and 50,000. This is a common size for e-publishers. The ‘just right’ size for the e-reading audience.
Novels are 50,000-110,000 words, most common is around 80,000, especially for a first novel, or any in the mystery genre. The 80,000-90,000 range seems to be the length that allows for the right balance a mystery story needs.
Epic stories are over 110,000 words. Diana Gabaldon is one author I read who writes in this length, and I admire her ability to keep me turning the pages. I have no dreams of ever writing that long, but even though the word and page count is daunting, there are writers who favor this category and do it well.
My longest published work is a few thousand words long – the short story length. I plan to break into the novel range at some point, as I currently have several 50,000+ word novels in process thanks to National Novel Writing Month in November. I seem to favor short story length, since they challenge me enough to keep me engaged, and there are numerous markets seeking this length.
What length do you favor the most? Why?
Lisa J. Jackson is an editor, writer, New England-region journalist, and a year-round ice coffee lover. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton and has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews. She is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she moderates guest author chats on Sunday nights. She is also a member and membership secretary of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime (SinCNE).