This blog post will be looking at the differences between the different lengths of fiction and what the pros and cons of each are. Generally poetry, drama, the short story and the novel are what pops into people’s heads when they think of types of writing. People often forget about novelettes and novellas.
Micro Fiction: 1 – 100 words
Flash Fiction: 100 – 1000 words
Short Story: 1000 – 7000 words
Novelette: 7,500 – 20,000 words
Novella: 20,000 – 50,000 words
Novel: 50,000+ (though more than 110,000 is often called an ‘epic’)
(Word counts are approximate and opinions on exact boundaries may vary.)
Micro fiction is incredibly difficult to write but can be really powerful. So much meaning can be expressed in only a few words. The other interesting thing about this length is that because it is so short often the reader is left to interpret it to find their own meaning. Can you make a story out of only 7 words? It is indeed possible.
Although I put that flash fiction is 100 – 1000 I would generally consider it to be most often 350 – 800. This length allows for more description than micro fiction but still restrains how much you can say and means you have to choose the few words you do carefully to create the most meaning.
The short story is probably the most common prose length other than the novel. This is a really accessible length to write and often very rewarding. A good way to think about it is that it is basically a mini novel (going back to the previous post this works for novelettes and novellas too), it still needs all the same components as one – characters, plot, rising action, climax etc. – but is compressed into a smaller word count. Like with the other short forms, every word counts and can be used to create meaning.
All of these lengths will be published in some kind of magazine, literary journal, or anthology. There are tonnes of opportunities for publication of these lengths and so many competitions out there. It can be a great opportunity to get your work out there.
The novelette is a short form, but not short enough to be a short story. This length can allow more development of characters than a short story. As the novella is longer you can explore more complex plots than in a novelette.
In terms of publishing, novelettes and novellas don’t generally get published in magazines (as they are too long) or as a book (they are too short). However, you sometimes see novella’s by already established authors. Novel lengths vary vastly depending on the target age group and the genre. In terms of publishability (I think I may have made up that word) a shorter debut is more likely to be published.
But, all these are just numbers. What should matter is what you want to write. I think a story should just end up being the length it ends up. Forcing a story into a novel length which doesn’t have enough substance for it can mean it being full of fluff. On the reverse, trying to cut down the length of a story too much can make it loose the intended meaning or create plot holes unless it is done carefully.
From my personal experience of writing a novella, it can be a good step towards completing a novel because the shorter word goal makes it feel more attainable and completing it motivated me to finish a novel. If you’re struggling to finish a novel why not try completing a novelette or novella?