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  • Writer's pictureM.C.

I'm Writing a... ?

So, you have an idea for a story and are putting it down on paper, but as you get the first few paragraphs written, you may think: How much of a story do I really have? How many pages will this be? Is this enough?

And without even knowing what you’re writing, I can honestly answer: Yes.

Because one beautiful thing about writing fiction is that all stories wind up being the exact length they need to be, and there is a market for each.

Microfiction: Not to be confused with poetry, I’ve seen microstories as short as four words. Hemingway’s “Baby shoes. Never worn.” is the most famous. But there are several contests out there for ten-word, single sentence, one-paragraph tales, or 50-word stories. The max here is 100 words, and not surprisingly, stories this short are incredibly hard to write.

Flash Fiction (or Short Shorts): Some say the upper limit in flash fiction is 1500 words, but I consider it more along the lines of 1000. A couple of pages. That’s it. Enough for a poignant scene that conveys a message. It’s like the literary equivalent of a joke with a setup and a punchline, though these stories are more often dramatic than comedic.

Short Fiction (or Short Stories): Again, some say works in this category can extend up to 10,000 words, but to me, that is too long. The limit here is about 7,500 words. Enough for a couple of scenes, generally sticking with one protagonist. A typical structure is to set a scene with a problem that is overcome by the end of the story. Try Poe, O. Henry, or Philip K. Dick for some great short stories.

Novelettes: This is where storytelling starts to get more in-depth with more elaborate character arcs and intricate plots. Though there can be multiple points of view portrayed, they should be kept to a minimum. Stories here can reach 20,000 words.

Novellas: Longer still, novellas can reach 40,000 words, which is enough for complex yet succinct stories. Heart of Darkness, A Christmas Carol, Metamorphosis, and Animal Farm are all novellas, and Martha Wells and Becky Chambers are showing this length of work is still popular.

Novels: The Full Monty. Here, there are really no limits in terms of characters or word counts, though really long books are harder to get published by unknown authors, but that’s a topic for another post. Most novels are within the 80-100,000 word range, though epic fantasy or space opera works can extend well beyond that. Robert Jordan’s initial Wheel of Time book, The Eye of the World, is over 305,000 words.


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