Thursday, June 07, 2012

Story Category Lengths

This is a followup posting to my book lengths posting from yesterday. Today, I'm going to touch on defining your story. Is it a flash fiction? short story? novella? novelette? novel? Again, these are all based on word lengths and not pages.

Most of the shorter categories are usually for contests and not publication per se. As with yesterday's post, the lengths for the different categories of stories will vary from site to site. One site, The Short Mystery Fiction Society blog, runs a yearly contest for its members called the "The Derringers". From the name of the group, the purpose is to promote the short story writer, so anything considered a novel won't be targeted in the contest submission guidelines.

FLASH FICTION = up to 1000 words
SHORT STORY = up to 5000 words
NOVELETTE = up to 17,500 words
NOVELLA = up to 40,000 words
NOVEL = 40,000 and up -

Flash Fiction, what is it? For all intents and purposes, this is a super short story. I've seen places running contests for flash fiction of 100 words or less and others of 500 words or less, even still others saying 1000 words or less. I've even attempted to enter a flash fiction contest in a former life (before I decided to enter real contests and start writing for real) and the story had to be 100 words or less. If we base this on the previous guidelines on yesterday's posting of 250 words = 1 page, then technically, this very short story isn't even half a page in length. If you can write a full story in two or three very short paragraphs (for the 100-word or less flash fiction), then I say more power to you.

If you compare book lengths, a children's board book would fall into this category, but most picture books don't have a full story as they are teaching type books. For the purposes of the Derringers, the length for flash is up to 1000 words. Even 1000 words is low for the type of writing I do, as I consider myself a short story writer.

Short Stories: As noted above, flash fiction are very short stories and contain a beginning, middle and ending in such a concise manner that when reading these very short flash pieces, one walks away with a sense of awe. You wonder how the author could write a story that played on all the senses and had such an impact that it left you in a state of awe.

Short stories do the same thing as flash fiction in a few more words. Most short story writers find it harder to write longer lengths because they know their story and write it and usually don't need a lot of fluff to get the story out. I consider short stories to be under 10,000 words, and most everything I've written has been under 10,000 and a good many under 5000 words. Again, there isn't any one source with exact standard numbers for the different classifications of stories.

A novelette will be longer than a short story and shorter than a novella. Again, the word lengths vary but 17,500 seems to be a pretty standard number from several sources to classify a novelette. Again, if you are entering a contest or writing for a specific publication, follow their guidelines as to the acceptable word length.

That brings us to the novella. This is almost to the point of novel writing but not quite. As a short story writer and not really a novel writer, I would consider writing something of novella length or up to 40,000 words if the story warranted such. I think transitioning from being a short story writer to a novella writer is probably easier than from short story to complete full-length novel. It's a mindset thing.

As far as novels go, pretty much 50,000 words on up is considered the standard for novels. If going a traditional publishing route, I've heard most publishers won't accept anything less than 65,000 or 75,000 for novels. So again, it all depends what reason you are writing the story. If it is to be published traditionally, then the publisher's guidelines trump everything else.

When participating in National NOvel Writing Month in November (NaNo), 50,000 words in 30 days is considered a novel, although most people participating consider that the beginning of a novel. A good many people write well over the 50,000 word limit in the 30 days. When I wrote Finally Home I struggled to get to 50,000 words but I managed to come in at just over 56,000 words, which is a tremendous feat for someone who considers herself a short story writer.

You will find when reading my stories, even my state stories, that word-wise they all fall in the short story category, falling between 2500 and maybe 8500 words. I'm comfortable with writing short stories and do well with them, having placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and runner up in various contests, all asking for short stories. I've heard some novelists state that they find it hard to write short stories and that's okay because we all have a place in the writing world. There are those of us who can write short stories and those who write novels and epics who do quite well.

When writing stories of short lengths and writing for contests, pay attention to the guidelines. If the folks running the contest or accepting short stories for anthologies or other publications that carry multiple stories at one time say they want stories up to a certain word count, and no more, then do your best to not go over those stated word counts. Some folks are more flexible and will make statements like "accepting short stories up to 4000 words, but will consider some slightly longer if the story merits being longer." It's all in the perspective of who is seeking the submission and for what purpose.

Another source definiing story lengths can be found here. There are many other sources for defining the length of stories, so remember not to rely on just one source for your answer.

Question for the giveaway blitz: If you are a writer, which do you prefer to write - the short story or the novel? Why? Remember to leave a comment to be entered for the 50-day giveaway extravaganza celebrating my 50 years. Today's giveaway is a free ebook of my first place winning story, "The Tulip Kiss". Don't forget to leave an email in the comment so I can contact you if you are the winner. See you all the postings - E :)

No comments: