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How Long Is A Short Story? [Comprehensive Word Count Guide]
A short story is any story between 1,000 and 10,000 words. A tale of fewer words than that is considered flash fiction . More than 10,000 is a novelette , followed by a novella , then a full-blown novel .
Exact word counts are not hard and fast rules, but a rule of thumb — just an average length. New writers should aim for a reasonable number of words for their novel length based on what makes sense for their narrative.
Short stories and novellas are different from long novels in the following ways:
- Lower word count
- Less character development
- Less world-building
- Fewer subplots than longer works
- Different marketability
Short stories and novellas are difficult to market for self-publishers and traditional publishing companies alike. You could try to get your short story published in a short story collection with other authors , but those don’t sell incredibly well.
The best method for getting your short story published is generally looking for a literary magazine or a publication specifically meant for publishing short stories.
Are there literary magazines looking for short stories? If you’re wondering where to submit short stories, there are tons of literary magazines and other publications actively searching for short story writers, many of whom pay the authors:
- The New Yorker
- Antioch Review
- Three Penny Review
- Cincinnati Review
- The Georgia Review
- The First Line
Short stories are still an in-demand market. Publishing a short story in one of these publications is an excellent first step towards a traditional publishing deal. Also, you definitely get bragging rights if your submission gets accepted.
All these publications have strict word count limits, which is one of the main reasons word count is so important.
- Why word count is important
- Definitive word count guide
- Resources for short story and novella writers
Table of contents
- Why is word count important?
- How long is a flash fiction story?
- How long is a short story?
- How long is a novelette?
- How long is a novella?
- How long is a novel?
- Are you writing a short story or a novella?
Word count is crucial because readers don’t want to read stories that are too rushed or too slowly paced. Word count norms are the standards for a reason. However, the main reason word count is important is when you’re trying to get published.
Literary magazines have strict word count limits that submissions must adhere to.
From the point of view of a literary agent or New York City publishing house, they seldom waste their time with novellas. After all, it costs about the same to edit and design a novella as it does a novel, yet novellas often sell at a lower price point.
A quick search on Amazon’s marketplace shows many of the top-performing stand-alone short stories are highly condensed romance novels available on Kindle Unlimited.
There’s also a soft limit for first-time authors on the maximum length of a book. If you can’t tell your first book’s story in under 100,000 words, tell a different storyline for your first book. For fantasy or science fiction (sci-fi), 120,000 is the maximum for a first novel.
Traditional book publishers know it’s more expensive to print a longer book, so they are more likely to avoid publishing first-time authors with a book beyond 120,000 words.
If you’re self-publishing, word count matters less. Self-published authors typically sell a lot more ebooks than physical print books, so consumers aren’t checking the thickness of the spine to see how long the book is.
As long as you’re not misleading readers about the length of your book, self-published authors don’t really need to denote whether their book is a novel or novella. (Don’t put “a novel” on the cover or in the description if it is under 40,000 words.)
A flash fiction story is always fewer than 1,500 words and usually fewer than 1,000 words.
Sometimes, flash fiction under 500 words is called micro-fiction or micro flash fiction.
Take a look at this list of publications looking for flash fiction . You might be surprised how many people are willing to pay for these quick stories.
Famous authors are no stranger to flash fiction. Joyce Carol Oates , Franz Kafka, and Ernest Hemingway have all published flash fiction. (Oates even teaches a MasterClass on the topic of short stories — I highly recommend it!)
The shortest story ever written is most likely “Baby Shoes” by Ernest Hemingway (though the authorship is dubious).
This would be considered flash fiction.
Of course, young children’s books are often fewer than 1,000 words. Instead of calling them short stories or flash fiction, children’s books are usually classified as board books, picture books, and early reader books.
Short story length is always between 1,000 and 10,000 words, and usually 1,500-7,500 words.
How long should a short story be in pages? A short story is 3-30 pages long. This number of pages works best when published in a literary magazine or similar publication.
Check out Kindlepreneur’s article on how to write short stories .
Examples of short stories (1,000-10,000 word count):
- “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
- “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
- “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
- “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
- “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl
- ”The Monkey's Paw” by W. W. Jacobs
You’ll notice I’ve put these titles in quotation marks. It is proper to place short stories in quotations while you should italicize novellas and novels. There are plenty of exceptions to these rules.
A novelette is between 7,500 and 20,000 words long — with some novella word count crossover at the top of that range.
Novelette is an uncommon term meaning longer than a short story but shorter than a novella. Some organizations, like the Nebula Awards, separate novelettes and novellas into two categories. On the other hand, Wikipedia does not have a page on “novelette.”
Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most prolific writers of short fiction and novelettes, including “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
Novella length is between 17,500 and 40,000 words.
Although it is challenging to market a novella nowadays, several famous shorter works were novella-length:
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- Animal Farm by George Orwell
- I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
- The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
- The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Is a novella longer than a novel? No, a novella is not longer than a novel; it’s shorter than a novel.
Are 20,000 words enough for a book? Yes, 20,000 words are long enough for a book, but it may be sold at a lower price and labeled “a novella.”
A novel is a story spanning more than 40,000 words. However, most novels boast a 50,000+ word count. Between 40,000 and 50,000 words, some experts use the term “short novel.”
It’s also worth noting that most writers shouldn’t write books longer than 120,000 words — especially not as a first novel.
How many pages are 40,000 words? 40,000 words is a page count of about 125 pages, which is the industry minimum for the label “novel.” A book page contains 250-300 words, depending on the font and formatting.
Are 50,000 words enough for a novel? Yes, 50,000 words are enough for a novel. In fact, the typical minimum for a novel of 40,000 words is often considered too short to be a proper novel. A 50,000-word novel is a more widely accepted minimum word count for novel status.
Now that you understand the importance of word count and how to tell the difference between a short story, novella, and novel, you know how to market your story and where to submit your work of fiction.
Not sure how long your book is going to be? Make sure to outline your book . A first draft outline should give you a good idea of how long your text will be.
If you’re struggling to finish your novella or short story, check out my handy article on How to Write Faster .
When I’m not sipping tea with princesses or lightsaber dueling with little Jedi, I’m a book marketing nut. Having consulted multiple publishing companies and NYT best-selling authors, I created Kindlepreneur to help authors sell more books. I’ve even been called “The Kindlepreneur” by Amazon publicly, and I’m here to help you with your author journey.
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Last updated on Feb 07, 2023
How Long is a Short Story or Novella? (Updated for 2023)
In book publishing, the average length of a novel will be influenced by its genre (sci-fi epics are much longer than romance novels, for example). Those averages are a reflection of publishing norms rather than any hard-and-fast rule. But with novellas, novelettes, short stories, word counts are crucial as they’re the only defining features of these formats.
In this post, we’ll show you how long a novella , novelette, and short story are — and reveal the word counts for popular examples of all three. But if all you're after is a quick answer, here they are:
- Novella : 17,500 – 40,000 words
- Novelette : 7,700 – 17,500 words
- Short Story: Less than 7,500 words
Why is word count so important?
‘Too long’ and ‘too short’ are rarely criticisms of a story's length but a comment on how well-written the piece is. There are 150,000-word epics that readers will effortlessly breeze through, and we’ve certainly read our fair share of short stories that seemingly drag on forever.
In writing a story, recommended word counts only really come into play when you’re weighing up your publishing options. For example, literary magazines typically have strict limits to the length of short stories they will print. After all, they have a limited number of pages for each issue (and their editors only have so many hours in the week to edit manuscripts).
Publishers can be fussy about word count
Novellas are usually sold at a lower price point than novels. This (combined with the fact that a 30,000-word book and an 80,000-word one cost roughly the same to edit, design, and market) means that editors at major presses are generally reluctant to take on novellas — and even less likely to seek out novelettes. The exception, of course, would be those written by established writers with an existing readership. For this reason, authors with traditional publishing aspirations are often discouraged from putting all their eggs in the novella basket.
In the world of indie publishing , where readers overwhelmingly buy ebooks, the distinction between a novel and novella , for example, is less crucial. As prospective readers can’t see how thick the spine of your book is, you don’t really have to label it as a novel, novella, or novelette.
In the next few sections, we’ll dash through the generally-accepted word counts for novellas, novelettes, and short stories.
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How long is a novella?
A novella is a work of fiction with a word count between 17,500 words and 40,000 words. This range is commonly cited by literary organizations such as the Hugo and Nebula awards — both of which celebrate novellas in the science fiction genre (as well as fantasy, in the case of the Nebulas.
How long is a novelette?
A novelette is a work of fiction with a word count between 7,500 and 17,500 words. This range is also cited by the Hugo and Nebula awards criteria.
Many prominent works into this category were initially published in magazines of the late 19th and early 20th century. Perhaps considered short stories at the time, the most popular examples have since been reclassified and re-published as standalone books.
How long is a short story?
A short story is a work of fiction with fewer than 10,000 words. This word-count ceiling is somewhat fuzzy, however, with many major writing prize s and magazines requesting submissions of no more than 7,500 words.
In addition, there are subsets of short stories with even more restrictive word counts. For example, works under 1,500 words are commonly considered flash fiction .
Pro-tip: Interested in writing short stories? We recommend taking this free 10-day course taught by professional editor Laura Mae Isaacman.
How to Craft a Killer Short Story
From pacing to character development, master the elements of short fiction.
Examples: How many words are in popular short stories, novelettes, and novellas?
Word count is merely a number. Many shorter works of fiction have made a cultural impact that far exceeds their modest length. In the sections below, we’ll reveal the number of words that make up some of the most popular books of all time.
Note: the listed word counts are approximate. In addition, there is also some debate around which category a few of the books belong to. As you’ll find out when you do your own research, what constitutes a short story, novelette or novella is not always cut-and-dry.
🏚️ The Fall of the House of Ushe r by Edgar Allan Poe (11,000 words)
👹 The Call Of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft (12,000 words)
🌕 The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (17,000 words)
🗡️ The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (17,000 words)
🪲 The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (21,000 words)
💍 Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (26,000 words)
👻 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (28,000 words)
🐁 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (29,000 words)
🐖 Animal Farm by George Orwell (30,000 words)
🚣♂️ Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (38,000 words)
🐘 “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway (1,500 words)
🎟️ “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (3,000 words)
🐑 “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl (4,000 words)
🗣️ “Woman Hollering Creek” by Sandra Cisneros (4,500 words)
💧 “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston (4,700 words)
🏊 “The Swimmer” by John Cheever (5,000 words)
🌼 “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (6,000 words)
👱🏼 “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor (6,500 words)
📍 “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates (7,000 words)
🐈 “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian (7,000 words)
🌎 “The Third and Final Continent” by Jhumpa Lahiri (7,700 words)
👒 “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado (8,000 words)
And there you have it — the long and short of how long and short these three types of story should be!
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How Long Is a Short Story? [Short Story Length Comprehensive Guide 2023]
- September 21, 2023
A short story is an entirely developed theme, but significantly more concise and less detailed than novels. Usually, people can’t read books in one sitting with no break. But one can easily read a short story in one sitting. Short stories are those tales that parents often tell their children before they sleep. This blog post will discuss how long is a short story. We’ll also learn how to compose a typical short story in 2023 .
There are three types of short stories
I) Micro Fiction (5 to 350-word count)
II) Flash Fiction (500 to 1000-word count)
III) Traditional Fiction (1500 to 5000-word count)
In this article, we’ll discuss the Traditional Fiction type.
Why is Word Count Important?
When you are new, readers will aggressively judge you for your work. If they read your story and find the word count overwhelming, they’d bounce back and won’t come back to reread your stories. They might consider you a layperson who does not know how to differentiate between a novel and a short story word count. That is why you need to take care of the word count in your short stories.
Determine the word count of a short story
Brian A. Klems , the editor and author of a known magazine suggests that ‘ When you’re writing, though, don’t impose a words limit on yourself. Let the story flow without interruption. Wait until you finish the first draft to go back and tighten it to a reasonable short story length.’ For example, a short story by Frank Arthur , a British novelist, ‘Twenty Minutes with Mrs. Oakentubb,’ has almost a word count of 4000 .
Pages in a short story
There is no parameter to know how long is a short story in pages. It depends on the word count of your story. You can write stories up to 10,000 words , but we don’t recommend this length for your short story. It’s better to keep the word count to the maximum of 7500 words . However, if you think your short story requires more word count and increasing it won’t bore the readers, you can write 10000 words . A story with a word count of 5000 has 10-12 pages . For example, a famous short story by Flannery O’Connor , an American novelist, ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’, covers 13 pages with a word count of 6500 .
Below we’ll talk about how you can write a short story.
8 Important Things in Story Writing
1. ideas to write short stories .
It all starts with an idea. You write about what you often imagine, or you imagine it in a horror condition, or when you are happy. Pick any of such instances and write on it. Choose the emotion that you feel with more passion. People often relate moments when they were joyful, and in their childhood when they were sitting alone getting scared in the dark, or if they had experienced a natural disaster, or if the group of dogs in childhood surrounded them. Pick any of these ideas and then write on it.
2. Captivating start of the story
It doesn’t matter if your first sentence or starting paragraph isn’t interesting enough. It is necessary, but composing it when you write is not essential. After writing some text, you can develop a fantastic opening line or paragraph in the middle or end. Giving two or three ideas, any writer would give you enough information to start by.
3. Different ways to start a story
You can start the story in any format you like. You can begin by first describing the history of characters and continuing it, or start with an intense action that grabs the readers’ interest. Whatever way you start your story, it should be captivating enough to get the reader’s attention; otherwise, many people will not read further. Think like this: Have you ever watched a movie that has a bland start? People probably switch to watching something else without watching it.
4. Sit down to write
Many writers never start writing anything and worry that they aren’t getting any good ideas to get started. Often when you sit down, pick up the pen or open the WordPad on your computer to write, you get ideas at that moment. Do this and brainstorm, and there are high chances that you would get something, to begin with.
5. Separate it from the Novel
You don’t need to describe each detail about characters in the story or describe the location as we read in novels. You need to give an overview and focus on the story more. Try reading more short stories and analyze how they differ from books. Focus on providing fewer details than novels but perfectly describing the plot and scene. Read a lot of short stories for this purpose.
6. Title of your Short Story
Choose a title that is not very long but conveys the outline of your story perfectly and precisely. When a person reads your short story, he should relate the story title with what he has read in the book.
7. Learn New Things
Never be hesitant about learning new things. It means that if you have time to improve your writing or learn about types of writing, go for it. However, don’t lose the uniqueness you have in your writing style , but don’t take it as a plunge to avoid learning new writing styles of writing. It’s up to you if you agree with anything taught to you. It’s not mandatory to follow all the techniques they have taught you. Use your knowledge too. Don’t think you can’t be a better writer than a writer born years ago and had an established name in the market. You don’t need to compare. Respect them, but know that they are also humans. They had their knowledge. You can benefit from it. Also, recognize your understanding of writing.
There are courses that famous authors are teaching online, for example, Jerry Jenkins .
8. Read after you write
After you complete your short story, read it from the perspective of an unknown person who is reading it for the first time. Keep in mind that you are reading a short story and see if you can quickly finish it like most short stories. See if it resembles the levels you had read in your childhood or seems longer than them.
Avoid these Things
1. copying a famous author.
Don’t copy your favorite author . People love him and love his work. Don’t think that imitating his style could get you the same riches and respect as your famous writer has. People like originality and uniqueness. People won’t respect a person who imitates another person hoping to get the same output.
Moreover, every writer has a unique artist who separates his writing style from others. You need to write in your style. Even if you have recently begun your writing career, you don’t need to emulate any famous writer. But you can do it only if your writing style naturally relates to him otherwise.
2. Elaborating the scenes and Characters
Another difference between novels and short stories is that novels describe the life stories of almost every character. In contrast, short stories focus on describing the details of the main character or protagonist. However, tell the history of your main character. For example, what happened to him, who he was, what he has become, and relatable things.
Beginning of Writing Career
Short stories often become the starting point of a writer to become a writer. They apparently write a story out of nowhere, but they observe it around them, take inspiration from movies, and then compose a novel. That’s where the spark ignites, and they write more. It is not necessary, and it’s not the case that every person who writes a short story must have an interest in writing or have some favorite writers. Even if he’s passionate about a sport and writes a story, his story could get clicked in readers’ minds.
Tips for Fiction Writers
1. unfinished stories.
You can write incomplete stories. It may seem absurd, but it creates a lifetime curiosity in readers’ minds to discover what would happen next. Some people often imagine their own story after reading the incomplete story. It only occurs when the story is fascinating; otherwise, it would not work well. You can write another part after months or years. You can also not write it at all. If you have something to tell and it’s exciting, then you must publish another part of your short story.
There are some stories, people automatically demand for their second part. The storyline, the plot, or the character attract them so much that they need to hear another part of it. We are not talking about novel writing in this blog post, but here is an example of the famous novel Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope . The villain of this novel, Rupert of Hentzau, was so charismatic that Anthony Hope wrote another book on his name Rupert of Hentzau, in 1898, four years after he wrote Prisoner of Zenda in 1898 .
2. Edit After You Write
This is very common advice you hear in both fiction and non-fiction . Write without caring for grammar, sentence structure, or such mistakes. Write in your flow. If you care about these things while you write, it will disturb the flow and fluency in your writing. You would have dedicated time to edit your text after you had completed your manuscript. Don’t worry about correcting mistakes while you are writing.
How to Publish Short Stories?
Publication of your story is crucial if you want to start a career in stories. Just like books, you can publish your short stories on platforms like Amazon Kindle , and you can also publish them traditionally. You can adopt the following ways to publish your short story.
- Submit your short story to a famous magazine .
- Take part in the short stories contest, and if you win, you will get the cash prize, and your short story will be published.
- To self-publish your story, you can also submit your short story on Amazon Kindle in the category of short reads.
We don’t recommend selling your short story to someone paying you good money, but not letting your name appear on your short story, especially if you plan to start your career as a novelist or short story writer.
We have learned what short stories are and how they differ from novels. The primary difference is that short stories don’t elaborate on details compared to novels. A novel is like a film that shows each and everything, for example, the way a person walks, the way someone picked up a water glass and threw it at the wall with frustration expressed on his face, and then he starts to take long breaths. You can imagine a short story be like a short time. Instead, a short story would tell that Max picked up a glass of water and threw it at the wall. We have also learned how many pages is a short story.
Short stories have an average length of 9 to 13 pages , with a word count that ranges from 1500 words to 7000 . You can sell your short books on Amazon kindle and to popular magazines. If you have written a short story, you can contact our Mczell Book Writing team, and we’ll edit it and make the perfect book word count that a story has, at very affordable rates.
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How Long is a Short Story? Unraveling the Word Counts and Beyond
The question, " How long is a short story ?" might sound paradoxical at first glance. By definition, shouldn't a short story be, well... short?
But the art of short story writing is not as cut and dried as it seems. This is a journey into the heart of short stories and nonfiction books, exploring the measures that define them. Prepare to unravel the secrets of short story lengths, word counts, and the sheer power of fewer words.
What is a Short Story?
Before we delve into the intricacies of short story lengths , it's crucial to clarify what precisely a short story is. Like a long story or a novel, a short story is a form of fictional literature.
While it shares the same basic narrative elements — including characters, plot, and setting — a short story achieves its goals in far fewer words.
Its brevity and ability to tell a complete story in a condensed format set a short story apart. Short stories fall into the sweet spot between a six-word story (yes, they exist!) and a novella, which is a bit longer, typically sitting around 40,000 words .
The Art of Brevity: Word Counts and Page Counts
Now, let's dig a bit deeper. How many words are we talking about? Word counts are integral to short story writing, but there aren't hard and fast rules.
Generally speaking, a short story can be anywhere from 1,000 to 7,500 words, though stories around the 3,500-word mark seem to hit the sweet spot for many writers.
As for page and average word count, using the industry standard of 250-300 words per page, a short story can be about 4 to twenty-five pages long. But again, these are not fast rules. Each story has its own rhythm, and as a writer, it's your job to find the right length for your tale.
Varieties in the Short Story Landscape
Other genres are also smaller and larger outliers in the spectrum of short stories. For instance, flash fiction refers to shorter stories that typically fall under 1,000 words. These stories can be as short as the famous six-word story, which was rumored to be penned by Ernest Hemingway: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
On the other end of the spectrum, we have novelettes, novellas, and longer short stories that edge closer to novel length. A novelette usually lasts between 7,500 and 17,000 words, while a full novella length often spans 17,000 to 40,000 words .
And then there's micro fiction , which is even more concise than flash fiction, often containing fewer than 300 words. Microfiction challenges the writer to develop a story in brief sentences, often with a twist.
The presence of these subcategories and the variation in average short story length shows no concrete boundaries in the realm of short fiction. This diversity allows short story writers a degree of flexibility to choose a length that suits their story and their style of novel writing.
The Craft of Short Stories: What Fits Into the Word Count
Writing short stories requires skill and finesse. Given the limited word count, every word must count. This efficiency leads to a different approach to character development and story structure.
In a novel, there's ample space to delve deep into the psyche of multiple characters. But in a short story, you typically focus on a single or a few main characters. These characters often undergo significant changes as the story progresses, offering readers a snapshot of a pivotal moment in their lives.
A short story follows the traditional story structure of introduction, conflict, climax, and resolution. However, the story often begins in media res — in the middle of the action — to immediately capture the reader's attention.
The resolution may also be implicit rather than explicit, leaving more to the reader's imagination.
Themes and Messages
A great short story usually revolves around a single theme or message. Whether it's the creeping insanity in the haunted house in Edgar Allan Poe's " Tell-Tale Heart ," the subtle feminism in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's " Yellow Wallpaper ," or the brutal reality of war in Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," these famous short stories drive home their messages in fewer words than most novels.
The Medium and the Market
If you're a new writer or a seasoned one looking to explore shorter stories, you might wonder: where do short stories fit in today's literary world?
Short stories are a staple of children's books and literary magazines, both print and online. The shorter format allows these publications to feature more writers and a wider variety of stories. It also opens the door for new writers, who might find it easier to break into the market with a short story rather than a full-length novel.
Short Story Collections
Short story collections, whether they contain stories by one author or many, are a popular format. Famous authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, and Ernest Hemingway have published collections of their short works.
Not only do picture books in these collections showcase the breadth of the authors' skills, but they also allow readers to dip in and out of different worlds in a single sitting.
Self-Publishing and eBooks
The rise of self-publishing and eBooks has also benefited the short story format. Readers looking for a quick read during their commute or before bed might choose a whole short story collection over a novel. As a result, more readers have access to a wider variety of stories, and writers can reach a global audience more easily.
Conclusion: The Perfect Length of a Short Story
So, back to our original question: " How long is a short story ?" The answer is it depends. Word counts and page counts can give us rough guideline, but the perfect length for a short story is the one that allows you to tell your story effectively.
Whether crafting a terse piece of microfiction or fleshing out a robust novella, the power of a short story lies in its ability to take readers on a complete journey in a limited number of words. After all, it's not the length of the story that matters but the impact it leaves on its readers.
Frequently Asked Questions about Short Story Length
What is a short story.
A short story is a fictional literature that tells a complete story in fewer words than a novel. It shares a novel's basic narrative elements — including characters, plot, and setting — but condenses these into a much shorter format.
How long is a short story?
Generally speaking, a short story is usually between 1,000 and 7,500 words. This equates to roughly 4 to 25 pages, given the industry standard of 250-300 words per page. However, this isn't a strict rule, and the length can vary depending on the story.
What is flash fiction?
Flash fiction is a type of short story that is typically under 1,000 words. It's a highly condensed form of storytelling, and the narrative often focuses on a single incident or character.
What is microfiction?
Microfiction is shorter than flash fiction, often containing fewer than 300 words. This genre challenges writers to tell a complete story in brief sentences, sometimes with a twist.
How long is a novella?
A novella is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. They typically range in average length from 17,000 to 40,000 words.
How many characters can a short story have?
Most short stories focus on one or a few main characters due to the limited word count. However, the number of characters can vary depending on the story's needs.
How does the structure of a short story differ from a novel?
While a short story follows the traditional introduction, conflict, climax, and resolution structure, it often begins in the middle of the action.
Can I publish my short story?
Yes, there are many outlets for publishing short stories. Literary magazines, both print and online, often accept short story submissions. Self-publishing platforms and short story competitions are other avenues for publishing your short story.
What is a six-word story?
A six-word story is a form of micro-fiction or short novel that tells a complete story in just six words. The most famous example is attributed to Ernest Hemingway: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
Do all short stories have a moral or a message?
Not necessarily. While many short stories convey a moral or message, others might aim to evoke a particular emotion, present a snapshot of a character's life, or explore a specific situation or concept.
The key to a good short story is that it feels complete and satisfying, regardless of whether it conveys a clear message.
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How Long is a Short Story? [Word Count Guide for 2024]
Short stories come in all shapes and sizes. Some are only a few pages long, while others are closer to novella length.
But what is the perfect length for a short story ?
That answer can vary depending on who you ask!
- Flash Fiction: Up to 1000 words
- Short Stories: 1,000 – 7,500 words
- Novelettes: 7,500 – 10,000 words
- Novella: 10,000 – 40,000 words
- Novel: 50,000 words and up!
This article will explore the different types of short stories and what the word count of each should be. We’ll also give you tips on writing a short story that packs a punch!
How Long Is A Short Story?
The average length of a short story can be tricky to determine, as there is no single definitive answer. It all depends on who you ask and the story’s purpose!
Some readers may call a twenty-page narrative too long, while others may consider that to be just right. Whether you’re writing for yourself, your friends, or even a publisher, it’s essential to understand that stories come in all different sizes and shapes—short ones included!
The best way to figure out how long your story should be is by balancing brevity with impactful character development and an interesting plotline.
Let’s take a closer look at some popular metrics for pinpointing the average word count for a short story!
Word Count Guidelines
Flash fiction (up to 1,000 words).
Writing tight and succinctly is an art form, but it becomes incredibly challenging when you start dealing with short lengths – such as flash fiction, which typically runs up to 1,000 words.
While a thousand words may not seem like much, successfully executing an exciting flash fiction story in just a few words isn’t simple. It requires creative constraint and discipline, and, above all else, it demands that you focus solely on the essential elements of your narrative.
Some even challenge themselves to write as short a story as possible – for example, a six-word story is a popular challenge among many writers. In general, anything below 100 words is termed “micro fiction.”
Short Stories (1,000 – 7,500 words)
Writing a successful short story takes more than just being a great wordsmith! Following the recommended word count guidelines is one of the most critical aspects of crafting a compelling piece. While there are no hard and fast rules, word count can be important for most writers.
Generally speaking, a good length to aim for would be from 1,000 to 7,500 words – this range hits the sweet spot for grabbing readers’ attention and ensures that your message isn’t lost in too much detail. It is also the range for most literary magazines calling for writer submissions. Keep it concise, and let your fantastic writing take center stage!
Novelettes (7,500 – 10,000 words)
Writing to length can be a difficult achievement when crafting a story. Understanding the basics of word count guidelines for a particular type of work is one way to make it easier.
For instance, your target should be 7,500-10,000 words when writing novelettes. Keep an eye on your page and word count as you write so you can make content adjustments before submitting your manuscript.
Novella (10,000 – 40,000 words)
Writing a novella is a great way to be creative and challenge yourself artistically .
Word count guidelines can provide structure and focus for your work, helping you craft a compelling story arc and create a cohesive narrative.
When writing a novella, the recommended word count is usually between 10,000-40,000 words, giving you quite a bit of freedom within the constraints.
This length also establishes entry points into other genres like short stories, novels, or full-blown works of fiction. With this range in mind, you can experiment with different characters, plots, and pacing approaches to maximize your creativity and add richness to your work.
Novel (50,000+ words)
While there is some leeway between a short novel and a long novella (the grey area between 40,000 and 50,000 words), in the end, it’s up to the author to decide which format better suits the work.
That said, a novel is typically considered as such if the word count is over 50,000 words. There is no upper limit to the length of a novel, with some spanning many hundreds of pages. However, always remember your chosen genre, audience expectations, and convention norms.
Reasons to Write Short Stories
Writing short stories can be incredibly rewarding. You get to develop a plot and characters with only a few thousand words, so it’s an efficient use of your time.
Short stories also force you to hone your writing skills since you need to pick the perfect words and structure the plot to captivate and surprise the reader quickly.
Short stories are also great if you want to practice writing in different voices because there’s more room for experimentation than with a longer work.
It’s a great format to hone your craft, either as a new writer or an established pro. It allows you to try new things and stretch your abilities in a way that doesn’t require much time.
Finally, if you’re an aspiring author, writing short stories increases your chances of getting noticed – it’s much easier for editors, agents, and other industry insiders to recognize someone who has multiple pieces published than someone who has only written one long novel or nonfiction book.
Why is Word Count for Short Stories Important?
Short story writing dictates that you keep the number of words you use in mind.
Often, the length of a story may indicate its genre. For example, an action-thriller tends to have a shorter page count than an epic fantasy. In the same respect, a short story can indicate similar traits.
A short story can typically range from 1,500-7,500 words. Anything longer shouldn’t be classified as a short story; often, these pieces are novellas or novels.
Word counts vary depending on the genre and magazine or publication, but staying within guidelines will ensure that editors consider your work more seriously.
Word limits force short story writers to tighten their prose and highlight their most concise and powerful ideas, leaving out anything unnecessary. It showcases a mastery of language, which is something all readers appreciate and editors respect.
Knowing your market and sticking to the appropriate word count for that medium ensures that you take your short stories seriously. Before you press send, make sure your story fits the given constraints perfectly!
Writing Tips for Short Stories
Develop interesting characters and settings
Creating engaging, relatable characters and settings for a short story is an integral part of writing that should not be underestimated. When readers connect with the characters in your stories, they become invested in what happens.
To make them memorable, think carefully about the personalities, backgrounds, and motivations of the main characters you create. These details should organically tie together to form a fully realized portrait.
Similarly, bringing your story settings to life can help immerse readers in your world. Clearly define the looks and feel of each location and include relevant descriptions so that it becomes vivid.
Focus on the plot with a set beginning, middle, and end
Many budding writers tend to run into trouble when trying to write an excellent short story.
It’s important to remember that you should always focus on telling a compelling story as your foundation. When constructing the plot of any piece of writing, it’s essential to have a clear beginning, middle, and end so that the reader is presented with an easily-followed journey.
The beginning of the story should introduce the tone and setting of the tale, while the middle should present active conflict and rising stakes .
Finally, at the climax in the final act, you can bring all those elements together in a resolution that adequately ties off all loose ends without feeling rushed or contrived.
This structure will help you to keep control of your narrative and make sure that your main story point shines through in every aspect of your writing.
Edit your work for style and grammar before submitting it for publication
If you’re looking to publish a short story, the most important tip is to ensure that your work is edited for style and grammar .
It’s essential to take a thorough look and eliminate any typos or grammar mistakes that may take away from the impact of your literary work. Many book-writing software programs can help you ensure that your short story is well-formatted and grammar-checked.
Additionally, consider whether your writing has the right feel and tone for your manuscript; having an experienced editor check it can help you. You can even use an AI novel writing software program to help with editing! One program in particular can act as an AI beta reader for your creative fiction – check out my full Sudowrite review for more information!
Finally, once you’ve made these edits, read it several times to ensure everything is ready for submission and publication.
Definition of a Short Story
A short story is a fiction work that can typically be read in one sitting. They are usually about a single moment or event and often deal with a few characters and settings.
Short stories often focus on a particular theme or topic, such as love, relationships, coming-of-age, loneliness, or overcoming adversity.
A hallmark of the format is brevity – usually much shorter than traditional novels – so authors must pack powerful emotions and vivid characters into relatively few words.
Shorter stories often focus on a particular theme or topic, such as love, relationships, coming-of-age, loneliness, or overcoming adversity.
While many books might have a handful of chapters that may not directly relate to each other, every detail in an average short story serves the same purpose: advancing the plot and exploring the theme.
As you become more familiar with this genre, you will understand why it remains an essential part of literature today.
Short stories were popularized by famous authors such as Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens as a form of engaging writing accessible to readers of all types.
Common Questions About The Length of a Short Story
How many pages are in a short story.
Short stories can range in length, but typically they are between 1,000 to 7,500 words long. That is roughly the equivalent of anywhere between three to twenty-five pages. Whether a story is labeled as “short” depends on its content and word count rather than page count. The essential factor to consider when determining if a piece of writing fits into the short story genre is whether it can be read in a single sitting. If so, it likely qualifies as a short story and should have between three and twenty-five pages.
Can a short story be 15 pages?
Absolutely, a short story can be 15 pages! Of course, the length of a short story varies from writer to writer, so there is some flexibility regarding word count. Generally speaking, stories that fall under the short fiction umbrella tend to span between 1,000 and 7,500 words. Therefore, 15 pages would be considered a long-ish short story (or perhaps even a novella).
Is 1,500 words enough for a short story?
Yes! When writing a short story, it’s essential to consider the ideal word count. In general, short stories tend to be around 1,000-7,500 words. While this can feel daunting at first, it is an ideal length for a short story since readers have limited attention spans. Creating a short story of 1,500 words allows a writer to develop characters, introduce and resolve conflicts, and create a plot without being overly long–a perfect balance for more effective storytelling!
What is considered a short story?
A short story is a piece of prose fiction that typically can be read in one sitting, making it shorter and more concise than a novel. Generally, short stories range from 1,000 to 7,500 words, which makes them easy to digest in a single setting. They usually have only one or two characters and center around a particular event or situation, which helps to keep the narrative focused and entertaining. Short stories often focus on creating an emotional response from their readers with the brevity of their content.
What are some famous short stories?
Few pieces of literature are as timeless and emotionally gripping as the short story form. Examples include literary classics such as Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart , Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book , O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi , Mark Twain’s The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County , and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis . These stories have captivated audiences for centuries with their compelling characters and unforgettable plots.
Final Thoughts : How Long is a Short Story?
As you can see, the length of a short story isn’t as cut and dry as one might think.
Whether your goal is to write short flash fiction about a specific moment or emotion or take readers on a long journey with your novella or novel, this guide should give you a good idea of how many words your story should involve.
Utilizing these tips as reference points, don’t be afraid to get creative and let the ideas form within your head. After all, writing is another way to explore our world and tell stories that challenge our perception of reality!
Neil Chase is an award-winning, produced screenwriter, independent filmmaker, professional actor, and author of the horror-western novel Iron Dogs. His latest feature film is an apocalyptic thriller called Spin The Wheel.
Neil has been featured on Celtx, No Film School, Script Revolution, Raindance, The Write Practice, Lifewire, and MSN.com, and his work has won awards from Script Summit, ScreamFest, FilmQuest and Cinequest (among others).
Neil believes that all writers have the potential to create great work. His passion is helping writers find their voice and develop their skills so that they can create stories that are entertaining and meaningful. If you’re ready to take your writing to the next level, he's here to help!
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When You Write
How Long Is a Short Story? What’s the Perfect Length?
Obviously, a short story is the shortest form of prose. But how long or short is a short story?
This isn’t an easy question—of course we know that a short story is typically a ‘short’ piece, but so is a novelette. What’s the unique and appropriate scope (word count and brevity) for a short story.
I have heard a lot of writers talk about short stories, and I have noticed that there are lots of gray areas in these bavardages—most writer to writer conversations that I have had vaguely cover elements like length and depth.
So, I decided to cover all the essential topics that are somewhat of a bother for new wordsmiths. Towards the end, I’ve compiled a list of famous short story writers and their incredible works to offer you some inspiration.
What Qualifies as A Short Story?
A word count is a good element used to qualify a piece of prose as a short story.
But on its own, it’s not sufficient.
There are other elements that have to be looked at for a story to qualify as a short story. We look at things like plot, character arcs, scenes, theme, and many others.
Unlike novellas , short stories have simple plots. They don’t have subplots or extensive backstories.
Typically, a short story has about one or two main characters (with shorter character arcs than a novel) and 5-6 scenes, at the most. Some short stories that I have read had a single drawn-out scene—this helps the reader get immersed into the story because the story doesn’t swing between many scenes.
Another typical characteristic of a short story is the brief reading length. Often, a short story can be read in a single sitting, in minutes, sometimes.
Although a short story takes a short time to read, writing it is a whole different rugged experience.
Ways to Measure a Short Story
The most obvious element that qualifies a short story is the word count. After researching the average word counts preferred by many publishers, I settled for the ones below.
How Long Is A Short Story?
Regular short stories lie within the word count range of 1000-7500, but some publishers will accept short stories with word counts of up to 10,000 (which is within the novelette range, I believe).
Other Types of Short Stories.
You may have noticed that I referred to the short stories in the previous general definition as “regular short stories”, that’s because short stories below the word count of 1000 are called micro-fiction and flash fiction.
Flash Fiction : If a short story has a word count below 1000 but above 100, it’s called flash fiction. The name flash fiction is befitting because a bibliophile can literally chew this type of fiction in a flash. Flash fiction is usually published as a one-page story in magazines and newspapers.
Micro-Fiction : A piece of fiction consisting of less than 100 words is called micro-fiction. Compared to a regular short story, micro-fiction is often hard to write. Imagine trying to write a very coherent story with just a dozen words. Luckily, there seems to be a good number of humorous micro-fiction pieces still being published in a couple of newspapers, so maybe it’s a sign that publishers love these squabby pieces.
How Many Pages Does a Short Story Have?
I don’t believe that page counts really matter over and above word counts, but it’s still important.
Unlike word count, a page count is (in some cases) affected by formatting issues. To simplify things for yourself, just look at one of the famous publishing houses’ formatting requirements and use them to format your pages.
The average preferred length is 250 words per page… so if you get 5,0000 words stuffed into your story, you’ll have about 20 pages. I’m not particularly good at math, but that calculation would mean that a standard page count for a short story is about 4 to 30 pages.
Obviously, flash fiction covers up to 4 pages, and micro-fiction starts and ends on the same page.
Looking at the page count, it’s plain to see that it’s almost out of the question for traditional publishers to publish your short stories as a single piece. You have to bundle your stories into an anthology (alongside your own works or pieces by other writers).
But, with short stories, you have a better chance of self-publishing than convincing publishing houses to put out your work (even as an anthology), so it would do you little harm to tweak the page formatting according to your preferences and publish it wherever you like—Kindle, Kobo, etc.
How Many Paragraphs Should a Short Story Have?
There are no generally accepted touchstones for the number of paragraphs in a short story.
You could write micro-fiction in a single paragraph, or you might publish a regular short story made of 50 neatly stitched paragraphs.
The options are innumerable.
Sometimes, it might depend on the reason for writing the short story. Is it an academic assignment? Or a submission into a competition?
If you are writing it as an assignment, the assigner might impose paragraph benchmarks so you will have to work with those.
Otherwise, you need not to worry about paragraphs as long as they are readable.
How Long Should It Take to Write a Short Story?
I wish I had a straightforward answer, I really do (it seems like this is how every question will be answered in this post).
But that’s the beauty of fiction writing—mutable laws.
Perhaps I should rephrase the question,
“ How Long Does It Take to Write a Short Story?”
Not that the rephrased question makes it any easier for me to answer, but it gives me the license to draw on the experiences of published writers in addition to my own.
Most published authors will tell you that it might take them anywhere from a week to a couple of years just to finish a single story.
You might not believe it, but it’s true, and it’s all thanks to lack of time, writer’s block , lack of ideas, et cetera.
So let me rephrase the question, again, “how soon should I finish writing a short story?”
The answer to that is way simpler than the previous two: you should finish your story as soon as it becomes a coherent piece. That may be a day or two, a week, a month, or some years.
In creative writing, uniqueness is beautiful. You do not necessarily need to go by what some famous writer says is the way of doing things. You have to create your own worlds in your own timelines.
How Long Can a Short Story Be: Is There a Limit?
If you are writing just for the sake of showcasing your creative side, you can blur the upper limit lines.
You can go well beyond the 7.5k or 10k lines that most people regard as the max for a short story.
If you want to get published by traditional publishers or want to enter your story into a competition, then following the established word limit guidelines is a prudent move.
The industry has a lot of publishers and competitions with a lot of marginally different Ts and Cs. For you to be safe and have a greater chance of getting your story by many publishers and competition boards, write within an average range—say 3k to 7.5k.
How Do You Know When a Story Is Done?
A story doesn’t really end; it just becomes enough for a particular context—for a book, a script, a post, etc.
Writers don’t just end a story after writing the “they lived happily ever after” part. They often patch and re-patch, tweak and re-tweak, delete and rewrite the story.
So, how do published authors know “when the story is done?”
First, they understand that writing a story is a process, with consistent stages. Seasoned authors know that after writing the first draft, the story has just begun.
When writing the second draft, the writer gives the story adequate tension, twists, and conflict—the story has to have more meat, juice, and an extra dimension.
By the third draft, the story should have an exciting cohesive plotline, conflict, good pace, and fully rounded characters (with an apprehensible character arc).
After the third draft, there’s almost nothing a writer can add to the storyline. So, after listening to seasoned proofreaders, the writer can polish up the grammar and other minute issues.
The story is ready for publishing, it’s “done”, for now.
Classic Short Stories by Famous Writers
‘A Haunted House’ by Virginia Woolf
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‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ by Edgar Allan Poe
‘The Nightingale and the Rose’ by Oscar Wilde
‘The Signal-Man’ by Charles Dickens
“One of These Days” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
“The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
“The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
“Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving
“Baby Shoes” by Ernest Hemingway
What Are Some Popular Short Story Collections?
Remember, most short stories are published as anthologies. Some authors have written so many good stories which have also gotten famous collectively.
Here are some of the most famous collections.
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
Complete Stories by Dorothy Parker
The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
Suddenly a Knock at the Door by Etgar Keret
It’s Time to Write That Short Story.
I’m quite sure that you now know how long your short story ought to be.
So now, what are you going to write? Flash fiction? Micro-Fiction?
Before you get the actual part, make sure you outline the short story , it’ll save you time and energy and act as a roadmap for your story.
Whatever type of prose you’d choose to write, you should place a huge chunk of your focus on the creative side. The other stuff will hugely depend on the platform you’re going to use to publish your fiction.
Why short stories are important for readers and writers alike, why do authors use short stories the advantages of this genre, why are short stories so hard to write understanding the challenges, what is a novelette exploring the short story genre.
Keep in mind that we may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.
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How Long Is a Short Story?
How long is a short story? It’s a persistent question in writing and literary circles. But the truth is that the length of a short story is largely dictated by the narrative’s needs, the characters’ complexity, the publisher’s submission guidelines, and so on.
The closest thing to a definitive answer is that the average short story length is between 1,000 and 10,000 words. Once you exceed those bounds, you’re moving into either micro-fiction or a novella.
Table of Contents
What Are Short Stories?
Short story writing is a literary art form in which the author manages to achieve in a few thousand words what a novelist achieves in tens of thousands of words.
Like poetry, a short story must be highly efficient, even terse, in its use of language. Moreover, character development, plot, foreshadowing, and other storytelling conventions need to be executed in a compelling and brief way.
Needless to say, short story writing is more complex than novel writing. In the same way that it is easier to write a thoughtful letter than a quality poem, short stories pose interesting challenges to both the writer and the reader.
Moreover, the language employed in short story writing can leverage poetry’s symbolism and suggestive qualities. Consider Hills Like White Elephants as an example of this.
Fortunately, we have many widely acclaimed examples from literary heavyweights like Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and many others.
Examples of Short Stories
There are many collections of short stories in volumes intended for the student, the academic, and the casual reader. These help us find short stories that suit our purpose, whether to expand our horizons or be entertained.
The following are considered to be some of the finest short story works ever produced.
Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
This short story was rejected initially, along with a handful of other stories from Dahl.
Lamb to the Slaughter is about an abused young woman who seeks revenge through extraordinary and subtle means. It is just under 1000 words and an outstanding example of subdued intrigue and dark comedy.
Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway
Considered to exhibit the very essence of this celebrated writer, Hills Like White Elephants is the story of a conflict between a man and a woman who disagree on a decision that will affect them for the rest of their lives. At nearly 1,500 words, this story captures the minds of men and women and how they interact in extraordinary circumstances.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
One of the longer short stories on our list at over 3,000 words, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery depicts the horrors of the modern world in a way that few writers have matched even to this day.
First published in 1948, this story shocked readers with its depiction of human sacrifice in a contemporary setting.
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
The Gift was published just after the turn of the century in 1905 and tells the story of a poor married couple who have to find Christmas presents for one another on a minimal budget.
This heartwarming story is an exemplary form of love and understanding as the impoverished two share gifts that are as personalized and rarefied as those offered to the Gods by worshipful nobles.
At just over 2,100 words, this beautiful work of fiction uses words as economically as its principal characters spend their money.
A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf
Published after the author’s death, A Haunted House is much more than an ordinary ghost story. Despite the title, it is both lighthearted and whimsical.
It is a story of struggle, loss, and commitment by a writer considered the quintessential feminist. It is also staggeringly short at fewer than 500 words.
Clearly, this story breaks the word-count rule we set down in the introduction. But you will find that it is strong enough to remain among any list of short stories rather than being relegated to the category of micro-fiction.
A Haunted House does more with less than possibly any short story the average reader will ever encounter.
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
Perhaps the most essential short story on any list of short stories, The Tell-Tale Heart is a masterpiece by the uncontested master of horror, Edgar Allan Poe.
It tells a story of duty and revenge using magical realism in a way that will leave the first-time reader feverish with lingering images. This literary masterpiece is just over 2,000 words in length.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Considered a hallmark of feminist literature, The Yellow Wallpaper was published in 1892, designed to help women imagine roles outside of the traditional American home.
A clear inspiration to writers like Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is long at just over 6,000 words. But its place among feminist literature is secure.
The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield
Our final example, The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield, is the story of the teenage daughter of a monied family in New Zealand and a garden party intruded upon by a neighbor’s tragic death.
The Garden Party employs classical symbolism to portray the contrast between the protected world occupied by the wealthy and the messy reality surrounding it. At just under 5,400 words, this entry fits our definition of the average short story word count tidily.
How Long is a Short Story?
Sometimes it can be tough to determine a short story length on the page.
When rendered onscreen, we usually have to copy and paste the text into a Word document and look at the bottom margin for the word count. But if all you have to work with is a physical page, you can come up with an estimate in several different ways.
First, consider that the average word density of a full page is either 500 for single-spaced documents or 250 for double-spaced papers. From there, you can find your approximate word count by multiplying the total number of pages.
Another way is to count the words in an average line on the page and multiply that number by the total number of lines. Then multiply the result by the total page count.
Average Word Count:
- Flash Fiction: 300 to 1000 words
- Micro Fiction: 500 to 1500 words
- Short Stories: 1,000 to 10,000 words
- Novellas: 17,000 to 40,000 words
- Novelette: 7,500 to 17,000 words
- Novel: 50,000 to 100,000 words
Of course, these word count definitions of average short story length are merely guidelines. A piece of micro-fiction could easily be printed in an anthology of flash fiction, and so on.
Fun fact: The six-word story (For sale: baby shoes, never worn) from Ernest Hemingway is considered a micro-story.
Word counts also depend on the requirements of traditional publishers and literary magazines. For instance, a particularly dense piece of flash fiction might read like micro-fiction and be listed that way. For more guidance on word counts, check out our how many words in a page guide.
What Are the Elements of a Short Story
Like any good piece of writing, a short story must have all the correct storytelling elements . Those parts must work together to create a coherent and compelling work to deliver the intended effect. Of course, the most important ingredient for any writer is the willingness to throw the material away and start again, or what Hemingway referred to as a “shock-proof shit detector.”
- Story Structure: Even with a shorter word count, a short story needs structure. It gives the reader the sense that the story has a point, meaning, and a satisfying conclusion.
- Characters : The main characters in any story should stand out immediately and win the reader’s interest, affection, or sympathy. They should function as symbols of meaningful themes or analogs for real people or personality types. You should also reveal them in a meaningful and compelling way as the story progresses.
- Setting : The setting (time and place) is the stage where characters and events occur and act within. Like other elements of a short story, the setting should be meaningful. Hills Like White Elephants makes exemplary use of the setting. The setting does a lot of the heavy lifting that lesser writers need novel-length word counts to pull off.
- Plot : The plot should fit within the story’s structure and mirror the characters’ lives and growth. The plot itself might be described as the behavior of the world and the characters resonating with each other.
- Conflict : There is no such thing as a story without conflict. As a matter of fact, there are seven types of conflict that you can use in your short story.
- Resolution : The resolution of the plot and conflict is highly subjective. Some stories use a minimalist approach, leaving the characters to continue as they are into an unseen future. But a good resolution will satisfy the reader and make sense of the structure, plot, and characters.
The Final Word Count
Asking how long is a short story does little to define the genre or offer much help to would-be writers. In reality, everything about good fiction is subjective. If there are any real rules, they can be reduced to Hemingway’s shock-proof detector.
No matter how long or short your story is, you should make it entertaining, meaningful, and compelling. Traditionally, the way to achieve that is to throw away 100 pages for every page kept. As the reader, you can expect stories like those discussed above to be the product of suffering, rejection, and thousands of revisions.
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