Writing and Publishing

When It Comes to Fiction, Size Matters

Last week we celebrated the short story, a work of fiction between 1,000 and 7,000 words. But what about shorter and longer works? Let’s start by looking at the types of fiction. 

Types of Fiction

At the shorter end of the spectrum is flash fiction. With less than 1,000 words, flash fiction is gaining traction, as it’s quick to read. But it’s not as quick to write. It requires practice to pull off well.

Within flash fiction is a special carve-out for micro-fiction, which is less than 100 words. With only a few sentences, micro-fiction requires tight writing with a swift opening and succinct ending. The length of flash fiction seems generous in comparison.

The short story is next, weighing in at 1,000 words up to 7,000. There is some variation on the upper limit, but 10,000 is usually the maximum. Short stories are a great place to hone our skills in writing fiction.

When a story becomes too long to be called short, it’s usually labeled as a novelette. Its length starts were short stories end and goes up to about 17,500 to 20,000 words. A novelette is a great length for when a short story runs long or there’s not enough material to pull off a novella. (Some publishers ignore this category and add its range of words to either the short story or novella categories.)

A novella, which at one step shorter than a novel, fills the gap of between 20,000 to 40,000 (or 50,000) words.

The ideal length of a novel varies significantly with the genre, starting at a low of 40,000 words for some categories but 80,000 words, or more, for other categories, with variations in between. The upper limit for novels also varies greatly with the genre.

Except for the 1,000-word dividing line between a short story and flash fiction, there is no general agreement on lengths for the various forms of fiction, just a rough guideline. Each publisher defines the length as it sees fit.

For novels, we need to make sure we know the expected word count for our genre before we start writing. For shorter works, we need to know what a publisher wants before we submit. Submitting something too short or too long is one of the quickest ways to have our work rejected; few will even read it if the length is wrong.

Word Length for Types of Fiction

When it comes to fiction, size does matter.

Micro-fiction: less than 100 words
Flash fiction: 100 to 1,000 words
Short story: 1,000 to 7,000 (or 10,000) words
Novelette: 7,000 to 17,500 (or 10,000 to 20,000) words
Novella: 17,500 to 40,000 (or 20, 000 to 50,000) words
Novel: 40,000 (or 50,000) up to 120,000 words, depending on the genre

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s book: Successful Author FAQs: Discover the Art of Writing, the Business of Publishing, and the Joy of Wielding Words. Get your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book Successful Author FAQs for insider tips and insights.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.