Short Story, Novel, or Something In-Between


If you’re unfamiliar with story structures, you can end up getting discouraged and quit. Try to find a length you’re comfortable with and shine!

It’s a question that most writers struggle with when they’re new, and it’s what leads a lot of good writers to quit. Why? Because they’re not prepared for what they are getting into. They decide to wing it and see what happens. That’s not how stories are born. Writing is a craft, an art. Today we will talk about picking the right story length for your literary juggernaut.

You have a ton of options on the length of your story.

I find that a lot of new writers out there like to think big, and that’s awesome. I love that you’re thinking big. Big ideas change the world. My advice is to get big; you should start small. Let’s examine some of the different types of story structures to see which one is right for you.

Micro-Fiction, Short-Short Story, Flash Fiction

Salvation is an excellent example of great short-short fiction. The plot is not complicated, it delivers precise and concise exposition for the most impact, the character development focuses on a single, memorable incident, and it provides that WTF twist at the end.

  • Pros: Writing at this length delivers more punch without being a significant time suck for readers. We live in a busy world, and these story lengths are perfect for a short break, a subway ride, or some leisure reading over lunch. Also, there are plenty of markets out there to showcase your talent in this arena.
  • Cons: While they may be short, this fiction length can also be tricky. It takes real skill to pull off an exciting plot in this length, let alone through in the character development.

Typical word counts: Short-Short Story; 2,000 words or less / Flash Fiction; 1,000 words or less / Sudden Fiction; 1,000 to 2,000 words

Short Story:

A standard short story is usually a focused narrative with one or two main characters involved in a single moment where they interact. We see a lot more character development, and there can be a few scenes/settings we may get to visit. You should use exposition sparingly and only if it adds to the focused narrative.

  • Pros: Again, it’s a busy world, and this length of a story doesn’t need a significant investment of time. You can pick up a story in your favorite genre and read it while lying in bed. You can get a lot more audience buy-in on empathizing with a character in these types of stories.
  • Cons: Short stories can also be tricky due to the length. A valuable point to remember is that you should cut superfluous verbiage and remain focused on the intent of the story. When you’re editing, do not fear using the scythe to cut your story down.

Typical word count: 2,500 to 7,500 words

Novelette, NovellaShort Novel:

These are my two favorites. They offer so many options that neither short work nor novel-length work can. Some great examples? I don’t know…. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, The Body by Stephen King, Inside Job by Connie Wells. Issac Asimov was particularly prolific in this venue.

  • Pros: They’re long enough that you can do a ton of worldbuilding and character development. They’re short enough that you won’t be overwhelmed. They allow you to develop the habits necessary for more extensive work as well.
  • Cons: These can be difficult to sell through traditional markets because they’re too long for magazines usually and too short to be called a novel. We have digital publishing venues today that are perfect for this type of story.

Typical word count: Novelette; 7,500–20,000 words / Novella; 20,000–50,000 words

Novel, YA Novel:

Novels are the king of the hill when it comes to a longer story narrative. There are way too many novels out there to list, and I’m sure if you’re reading this, then you’ve read your fair share. There are virtually no limits to the kind of story you can tell at novel lengths. You can dive deep into your character’s minds, the settings develop to a greater degree, and plot twists are everywhere if you want.

  • Pros: You have plenty of room to breathe. Publishers like novels because they sell.
  • Cons: New writers can get discouraged when they haven’t developed the habits necessary to complete a novel-length work. It’s a daunting enterprise to undertake. Story development is much harder, and you need the required skills to weave an intricate plot.

Typical Word Count: Novel; 50,000–110,000 words (Sweet spot 70,000–80,000 words) / YA Novel; 50,000–70,000 words

Your takeaways:

Story length will affect the way you have to deliver your content. Start small, so you learn as you go, and you don’t get discouraged.

Remember, these are not hard and fast rules to follow. These are meant as guideposts to help you on your way to being a remarkable storyteller. Writing, as I said above, is a craft and an art. Writing well takes practice. You’re going to get out what you put into it.

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