The actual short story vs. the general short story

I think this is something that needs clearing up.

The actual definition of a short story is a work that is under 10,000 words.  Some would argue 8,000 is the cap.  Point being, there is a limit to how long the work can be.  This, in turn, creates a certain style of writing.  The actual short story is one of the major forms of literary fiction.

With the rise in e-books, I think it is important to be aware of the general short story.  While an author may know the differences between flash fiction, short stories, novellas and novels, the average reader does not.  Many people will classify anything that is shorter than a novel as a "short story" even if it is a 30,000 word novella.

Therefore, this is something for both authors and readers to consider.  Although you may have authored a wonderful novella, "short story" might be a term that more readers would understand.  As for the readers, be aware that "short story" could mean a wide range of story lengths.  While you may not like 500 word pieces of flash fiction, a 30,000 word novella could just be up your ally.


  1. Interesting point. I wonder where these fixed word length definitions came from - I think it is relatively recent.

    In one of Stephen King's intros to a collections of Novellas (either Different Seasons or Four Past Midnight) he says a short story can be up to 20k, and that novelette is a "cutsey" synonym for novella, not a separate thing.

    But since then, things seems to have become a bit more rigidly defined, at least among writers and publishers. As you say, readers probably don't think so rigidly.

  2. Yeah, I wonder about these definitions, too. Who sets the word limits? And why?
    Although as a writer I can definitely appreciate the stylistic differences between, say, a 3000-word story and a 25,000 word story.

    On the other hand I've read some 20,000 word stories that to me read as stories, not novellas. Maybe it's just me but when I think "novella," I think of something tangibly different than a longish short story.

    Though I'd be hard pressed to define it...

    Shana Hammaker
    Twelve Terrifying Tales for 2011

  3. Plus, I think this is an important marketing point for authors. Yes, it's true that you need to tell people what they're getting themselves into. But I also think it's important to keep in mind how the story reads. Is it SUPPOSED to read like a short story? Or a novel? This could affect both reviews and key word searches.


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