How long can a story be before it’s no longer a short story?
Or what’s the maximum short story length for flash fiction?
If you’re a fiction writer, you’re already familiar with the distinction between short stories, novellas, and novels.
But now that short stories themselves have sub-species of different lengths, how do you know which is which?
Do those stories you see in your Twitter feed from fellow writers qualify as short stories?
In other words, if there’s a maximum length for a short story, is there also a minimum one?
What is a short story?
What makes a story a short story — as opposed to a random thought (at the short end of the spectrum) or a novelette?
The length of a short story isn’t its only defining characteristic, but it’s a decisive one. Most short stories stop at around 7,500 words, though there’s some wiggle room.
As for minimum length, stay tuned.
How long is a short story?
There’s some room for haggling, but the previously mentioned 7,500 words are generally as long as short stories get.
Some can go as high as 10,000, but they’re the outliers in the short fiction world. Past that point, and we get one of the following:
Short stories also come in short-shorts, which are divided into flash fiction and micro-flash or micro-fiction.
Even micro-fiction is divided into different types. For example, “55 Fiction” is exactly what it sounds like: a work of fiction exactly 55 words long.
“Drabble” fiction is 100 words long, and I’m sure you can guess the word count for “69er” fiction. And Twitter fiction can’t be more than 280 characters long.
If shooting for a specific word count makes you feel blocked, though, go for something that gives you as much room as you need. Writing a good story is challenging enough.
But don’t be afraid to try something new, either.
If you connect with other writers on Twitter, you’ve probably had a fair sampling of micro-fiction, and maybe you’ve written and shared some of your own. If so, good on you.
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Maybe you’ve heard of Ernest Hemingway’s famous 6-word piece of micro-fiction: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
So, is there a minimum length for a short story? I’d say you need at least two, and whether they qualify as a story depends on the message they send and its emotional effect on the reader.
Short doesn’t mean low-impact. In fact, because you have fewer words to work with, it’s even more important to make every one of them count.
Here are some other examples of well-known short stories — from micro-fiction to flash to longer short stories — and their lengths:
- “Baby Shoes” by Ernest Hemingway (6 words)
- “Dandelions, Actually” by R. Gatwood (11 words)
- “Collaboration With Fly” by Lydia Davis (12 words)
- “Why I Don’t Keep A Daily Planner” by Stacie Budzko (15 words)
- “Love Is Forever” by Merrilee Faber (21 words)
- “Tomorrow” by Shruti Parthasarathy (25 words)
- “Oh, I Felt Like Dust” by Chris Red Martiny (28 words)
- “The Little Sea Maid” by Annika Barranti Klein (235 words)
- “Janice” by Shirley Jackson (265 words)
- “Wendy, Darling” by A. C. Wise (350 words)
- “Doctor Chevalier’s Lie” by Kate Chopin (385 words)
- “A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf (750 words)
- “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (965 words)
- “If We Live to be Giants” by Alison Mulder (980 words)
- “Women’s Work” by Amelia Aldred (985 words)
- “The Witch in the Tower” by Mari Ness (990 words)
- “One of These Days” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1000 words)
- “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe (2100 words)
- “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry (2165 words)
- “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (3775 words)
- “The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield (5555 words)
- “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving (6950 words)
Finding more on the internet is not difficult. Microfiction is abundant on social media channels (especially Twitter), and a quick Google search will turn up articles showcasing favorite pieces of short fiction and the websites or published volumes that feature them.
What new stories will you find today? And what story are you writing now?
Ready to write your short story?
Now that you know the ballpark numbers for different types of short fiction, which ones have you written more of up until now?
And what new story lengths would you like to try?
Maybe you’ll be inspired to write and share your first bit of Twitter fiction today.
Or maybe you’ll cut a neglected novel of yours down to flash fiction length. Maybe that’s just what it needs.
Whatever you do as you play with your stories, let the words flow just as they come into your head. Enjoy the process, and use as many words as you need.
And may your creativity and sense of adventure influence everything you do today.