What is a Short Story?

WRITING

S.C. Farrow

7/26/20236 min read

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What is the definition of a short story? How short can a short story be? How long can it be? Read on, Grasshopper, for this path leads to true enlightenment...

A short fiction is a short narrative that has been invented by the writer. When we make up a story that didn’t happen, we are inventing fiction. Likewise, if we take a real event and embellish it by changing the characters, adding new characters, or changing the sequence of action as it occurred, we are fictionalising that event, changing the state of what really happened into a new state of possibility—of what could have happened but didn't.

HOW DID SHORT STORIES DEVELOP AS A LITERARY ART FORM?

Short stories have always existed in oral tradition, but the modern short story emerged almost simultaneously from Germany, France, Russia, and the United States. In 1795, Goethe contributed a set of stories to the literary journal Die Horen. Goethe did not call his contributions short stories; rather, he thought of them as ‘entertainments’ for German travellers.

​However, short story as we know it sprang from the United Sates. Written in 1837, Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales (a short story collection in two volumes), is often cited as the collection where it all began. When Edgar Allan Poe read Hawthorne's stories, he identified the essential difference between the short story and the novel, suggesting that a short story is a narrative that ‘can be read at one sitting’.

Many people still read the stories written by Hawthorne and Poe. However, they are unlikely to be the 'go to' choice for modern readers. Language and style have both changed enormously since the 19th century!

And, of course, several of Hawthorne's short stories have been made into films. Below is a link to Dr Heidegger's Experiment. If you’re interested, you can read the story first, then watch the movie adaptation.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF SHORT FICTION

There are several different types of short fiction. For example, there is micro fiction, flash fiction, short fiction, novelette, and novellas. No doubt you've read a short story or two in your time. However, if you're not familiar with the short story format, now is the time to check it out. You'll notice that style and word count are two of the biggest difference in this type of narrative.

The focus of these micro narratives is not necessarily the character or plot, though they should have both. Rather, the focus of these stories is movement, as each line peels back a layer that did not exist before.

Micro fictions are fictions. As such, their two main parts are the hook and the conflict. And like every great story, it should include tension!

Micro fiction (or micro flash)

Up to 100 words. Usually under 500 words. Also known as a micro-story, a napkin-story, or postcard fiction. Variations of micro fiction include:

  • Micro-Fiction: Max 200 words.

  • Twitterature: Max 280 characters

  • Mini-Saga: Max 50 words.

  • Six-word story: Any story with a single-digit word count is a category unto itself.

This type of story can be difficult to write — and even harder to write well. However, micro fiction is popular with readers and publishers.

Examples include:

  • Baby Shoes incorrectly attributed to Earnest Hemingway (6 words)

  • ​​Give It Up! by Franz Kafka (134 words)

  • ​​Likeable by Deb Olin Unferth (335 words)

Flash fiction

Usually under 1000 words. The word count can be as low as 750 or even 500 words, and as high as 1200 or even 1500 words. Flash fictions are complete works (i.e., they have a formal structure).

  • Sudden fiction: Max 750 words.

  • Flash fiction: Max 1500 words.

Examples include:

  • A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf (750 words)

  • ​If We Live to be Giants by Allison Mulder (980 words)

  • Taylor Swift by Hugh Behm-Steinberg (500 words)

Fan fiction

Fan fiction, also known as transformative fiction, has been around since the 1970s. It is a type of writing created by fans of an original work, such as a book, film, or television show. It is a powerful form of creative expression that allows writers to break down cultural, sexual, and other societal boundaries in order to interpret, invent, or re-invent characters and worlds from an original work in new and interesting ways.

​However, while it is a popular and often enjoyable form of writing, it is important to remember that it is still subject to copyright laws. All fan fiction must respect the original work and should not be used for commercial use without permission from the copyright holder.

Short Story

A short story is a work of fiction that can be read in one sitting. It is typically shorter than a novel, with fewer characters and a more focused plot. Short stories often explore a universal theme or idea, and can be found in magazines, newspapers, and collections of short stories. Writing a short story can be a great way to explore a character or idea and can be a rewarding experience for both authors and readers alike.

​Usually 5,000 and 10,000 words (or 5 to 10 pages). The average is around 7500 words. Be aware that some countries have their own 'standard' for length of a short story. For example, in Australia, the standard (or average) is around 3000 words.

Examples include:

  • Premium Harmony by Stephen King (3720 words)

  • ​I Have No Mouth Yet I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison (5890)

  • The Hunter's Wife by Anthony Doerr (9337 words)

Novelette

A novelette is a work of prose fiction that is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. It typically contains between 7,500 and 17,500 words and is usually focused on a single plot line told from a single point of view. Character development and setting are often as important as the plot in a novelette, with the main characters often undergoing an inner journey, as well as an outer journey, as the story progresses.

​They can be up to 100 pages long. These stories can be difficult to sell to a publisher as they are considered to be too long for a magazine and too short to be published as a stand-alone novel. Novelettes are a great way for writers to explore complex topics and characters in greater depth than a short story can allow.

Examples include:

  • The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe (11,165 words)

  • ​​The House of Aunts by Zen Cho (15,000 words)

Novella

A novella is a work of fiction that is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. Generally, it is between 20,000 and 40,000 words in length. Novellas often focus on a single plot and contain a limited number of characters and settings. They often explore complex themes in greater depth than is possible in a short story, but with a compressed narrative that gives the reader a satisfying resolution. Due to their length, novellas can be read in a single sitting, making them perfect for readers who want a more intense and immersive experience than a short story.

​Novellas can be a little hard to find as print books. However, in certain genres, they are very popular to download as ebooks from retailers such as Amazon and Kobo.

Examples include:

  • ​The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (22,000 words)

  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (31,000 words)

These word counts are guides; they are by no means set in stone. If your goal is to submit your short story to an established magazine or other publisher, you should check their website for details regarding word count before submitting to them. Most publishers will state exactly what their preferred word counts are, and if they don't, it won't hurt to send them an email asking if they have a limit.

KINDLE SHORT STORY WORD-COUNTS

If you’re interested in self-publishing, you might be interested in publishing to Amazon’s Kindle platform.

Short stories written for Amazon’s Kindle platform are very popular with readers. There is no exact word count for Kindle Shorts and word counts can vary from 250 and 25,000 words.

​The page count for Kindle Shorts can be anywhere from one page to one hundred pages, and the time it takes to read them can vary from fifteen minutes to two hours (and sometimes longer). The idea is to work within Kindle’s page and timeline parameters.

​The length of a Kindle ebook is determined by the number of page ‘turns’ on a Kindle device, each turn representing a single page. As a general rule of thumb, 250 to 300 words fit on a single Kindle page. So, if you want to write a twenty-page short story to publish on Kindle, you will need to write somewhere between 5000 and 6000 words.

​Another way to estimate the length of your Kindle Short Story is to decide how much time you want your audience to spend reading it. The list below is a guide to estimated reading times for Kindle Short Stories:

  • ​5 minutes: 1-11 Kindle pages (approx. 250-2750 words)

  • ​30 minutes: 12-21 Kindle pages (2751-5250 words)

  • ​45 minutes: 22-32 Kindle pages (5251 -8000 Words)

  • ​One hour: 33-43 Kindle pages (8001-10,750 words)

  • ​90 minutes: 44-64 Kindle pages (10751-16,000 words)

  • ​Two hours or more: 65-100 kindle pages (16001-25,000 words)


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