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How Many Words in a Short Story

When it comes to literature, there are certain guidelines which apply to every type of story that is told. How many words in a short story? In general terms, a short story will be under 7,500 words. Yet some in the industry consider novelettes and novellas to also be short stories, which are up to 17,000 words or up to 40,000 words respectively.

And you’ll find disagreement within these guidelines as well. Some will say that a short story can be between 1,500 words to 30,000 words. Others may say that a short story should be around 5,000 words at all times. With so much variation, how can you know how long your own story should be?Unfortunately, the answer is less than definitive. A short story needs to be as long as necessary to be completed it a logical way. So let’s take a look at the various styles of short stories that are an option right now, what their general guidelines tend to be, and what you can accomplish within that specific style.

#1. Micro-Fiction.

This type of story is extremely short, usually with a cap at 100 words. These stories can be difficult to write for adult content, but can also be extremely poignant to the reader when it gets done right. Sometimes you can even offer micro-fiction in less than 10 words.

For example: Home with nursery. For sale. Unused.

#2. Flash Fiction.

This is the type of short story that is usually published in magazines and other periodical works. They are usually up to 1,000 words in length, but can be up to 10,000 words in certain publications. Some older novels were actually published chapter by chapter on a monthly basis through the flash fiction process. This is a popular form of the short story because they are easy to read and pretty easy to write.

#3. Traditional Short Fiction.

This is the short story that is accepted in lengths up to 7,500 words. You will find them published as collections or on their own in certain periodicals. You’ll also find some bloggers are using this type of story format to create unique content for their readers while practicing their own skills.

#4. Novelettes.

These short stories tend to be the most difficult to write. They’re also very difficult to publish, since they tend to be too long for periodicals, but too short for the traditional publishing process. Because of these issues, you’ll find that most writers try to create similar stories that can be pieced together at the novelette length so that a full novel can actually be published from their work.

#5. Novellas.

These are the longest short stories by definition. You’ll usually find a novella is in the 40,000-word range, with a maximum of 50,000 words by most generalized definitions. These are growing in popularity for self-publishing with the growing e-book industry. Readers like that they are shorter than a traditional novel, but offer them a more developed story than a traditional short fiction piece would typically offer.

What Does This Mean for Page Counts?

If you’re counting the length of a short story by the number of pages that have been written instead of through word count, then it is important to know about standard formatting guidelines. Most publishers expect to receive a manuscript that is double-spaced, using a standard 12-point font like Times New Roman, with paragraph indentation of 0.5 inches.

Within that type of formatting, the average page length is going to be about 250 words. You can then determine how long your short story should be based on the number of pages created. A 10-page short story would be about 2,500 words using these examples. If you had 100 pages, then you’d have a 25,000-word story that would qualify as a long novelette or a short novella.

But the bottom-line is this: even though there are generalized expectations for short stories, there is no set definition for your story. It needs to be as long as necessary to make sure you’re telling a good story. Maybe that means you only need to use a dozen words. Or maybe you need to use 40,000 words to create a novella that some might not consider to be a short story.

Either way, let others determine how your story is classified. Worry less about word counts and more about the actual content you’re offering to your reader. When that happens, the classification of your story will happen on its own.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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