How Long Is a Short Story, Novelette, Novella, Or Novel?
Here at Bridging’s Books we compare and talk about stories a lot! We’ve got lists of some of the best books from the most famous writers, to guides on how to read niche authors writing wild fiction that has intense fan bases. But all of these stories can be classified in different ways. Their lengths determine a lot about how the stories are structured, how much depth the writer will go into and even how they are published.
In this article, we’ll go through the lengths of short stories, novelettes, novellas and novels. We’ll compare the different forms and give you examples of short stories, novelettes, novellas and novels. We’ll even link you to some of the best free examples that you can read right now. We’ll cover why these classifications even matter and how best to navigate the world of word count.
Word Counts For Short Stories, Novelettes, Novellas and Novels
- Short story: over 1,000 words, usually less than 10,000.
- Novelette: 7,500 to 19,000 words.
- Novella: 10,000 to 40,000 words.
- Novel: Usually greater than 40,000 words (sometimes 50,000 can be the cutoff)
These numbers are a general guide and some people will classify them differently but they are roughly what you can expect.
As you can see there is a small overlap between a short story and a novelette and quite an overlap between the length of a novelette and a novella.
Just to make this even more confusing you also have the Flash Fiction category. This tends to be anything less than 1,000 words but sometimes Flash Fiction is considered to be anything less than 500 words.
Why Does Word Count Even Matter?
Word count is an important part of any story. Not only does it change how much detail the author will go into, it also affects the entire post-writing process. Having a book from a new author that is 400,000 words will be a very difficult sell, likewise a story that is 5,000 words will be marketable to a very different audience on a different platform than a standard roughly 80,000 word novel. In this section, we’ll cover some more of the reasons why word count, and the accompanying definitions, matter and why they even exist in the first place.
Let’s start at probably the most important factor in any commercial storytelling:
In one way or another, if an author wants their story to be read, they will need to get it published. In today’s landscape this process can vary wildly. It’s not just a matter of getting physical paperbacks out of the door any more, there are different formats to consider, entire publishing strategies (including self publishing) and the process of marketing the story to get it in front of the right audience. But whoever the publisher may be, there will always be the same consideration they have to face.
The longer the story the more time is required to read and edit it. If the story is being printed, the word count will affect the outlay required. If the story is being recorded as an audiobook, the length will directly affect the cost of production, with most narrators being paid per hour of the final recording. For these reasons, shorter stories tend to find different homes than full length novels. Magazines or anthologies are generally made up of a collection of different authors writing shorter stories. In this case it may make sense for the publisher to choose a higher number of shorter pieces. This means that they can broaden their readership with a range of stories, in addition to increasing the amount of people that will be invested in the success of the work. A great example of this is an anthology published by Christopher Fielden called 81 Words. The idea behind this was for the authors to write a story in exactly 81 words. It consists of 1000 stories by 1000 authors, with profits going to the Arkbound Foundation. You can find out more on Christopher Fielden’s website.
2. Reader Fatigue, or Lack Of
Personally, I feel as this has kind of gone in both ways recently. It’s a fairly common thought that with our struggles with delayed gratification and technology, reader concentration has greatly reduced. In this way, shorter stories are making a comeback as they are very accessible and don’t require the commitment that a 1,200 page epic fantasy does. But in other ways, readers also feel that shorter stories may not be worth reading if they don’t build a huge world that they can lose themselves in. There are a finite amount of books and series a person can read, so a huge 10 book series might be exactly what they want, rather than jumping between different stories every few days.
This is an interesting topic with publishers and authors adapting to readers’ wants and needs. The Murderbot Diaries is a good example of a very successful novella series that has now been sprinkled with a couple of full length novels after readers voiced they wanted more! I think there’s a balancer here that is down to the publisher to decide. Either way, authors now have more of a market for different lengths of stories so they can write what they want and have more of a chance of finding readers. And readers themselves get more of what they want, whether that’s easy to digest novelettes of huge multi-book series.
As mentioned in the first section, whoever is publishing the story will have to take marketing into consideration. They may also have difficulty marketing shorter fiction. A lot of people tend to think a full length novel is the best bang for your buck so are more likely to stay away from short fiction unless it is priced appropriately. Although it appears shorter stories and novellas are gaining in popularity, the novel still seems to be the best balance for the publisher when it comes to marketing. This is especially relevant with audiobooks where many listeners will purposefully listen to longer books as they tend to be better value for money. (Assuming length of the novel is the measured metric in the better value for money statement).
How Long Is A Short Story?
Generally, a short story is a narrative that can be read in one sitting, unlike a novel that may take several days. It typically has a limited number of characters and a concise plot, focusing on a single incident or exploring a very simple beginning, middle, and end. The ending of a short story often reflects the beginning in some way, either by revealing character growth or leaving room for the reader’s interpretation.
Probably the most famous six-word story is by Ernest Hemingway:
“For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Short stories generally range from 1,000 to 10,000 words, or about 3 to 30 pages depending on formatting and dialogue. The length of a short story is sometimes judged by the number of pages, and websites often provide estimated reading times.
Examples Of Short Story Lengths And Word Counts:
- A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf is just over 700 words.
- The Egg by Andy Weir is about 1000 words.
- Why Don’t you Dance by Raymond Carver is just over 1,600 words.
- The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe is around 2,200 words.
- Guts by Chuck Palahniuk is around 3,500 words (and is very NSFW, readers of a sensitive disposition should definitely not read this)
- A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury is about 4,300 words.
- The Last Question by Isaac Asimov is about 4,600 words.
- Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro is just over 9,000 words long.
- There are several magazines that provide high quality free short stories, such as one of my favourites, the SciFi magazine Clarksworld.
How Long Is A Novelette?
A novelette falls between a short story and a novella in terms of length and characteristics. Typically, it has a word count of around 7,500 to 19,000 words. Similar to a short story and a novella, novelettes also have limitations on the number of characters and plot development. The plot is usually linear and uncomplicated, with minimal or no sub-plots. It focuses on one or two characters rather than a large cast. Despite providing more depth than a short story, the writing in a novelette will generally be very concise.
Examples Of Novelette Lengths And Word Counts:
- The Spectacles by Edgar Allan Poe is 9,200 words
- The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is 11,500 words
- The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is 13,500 words
- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is 16,500 words
- The Minority Report by Philip K. Dick which is around 16,700 words long
A few of these examples could easily be classed as novellas. Distinguishing between the classifications can be difficult and confusing, but these guidelines are pretty general. If you’re writing something yourself, don’t get bogged down on these classifications and just write what you want.
How Long Is A Novella?
A novella is often referred to as a short novel. It typically revolves around one character and one plotline, and while it may not have chapters, it can have subdivisions that help structure the story in the same way chapters might. Novellas tend to follow a linear structure with a focus on the protagonist’s development. They can explore inner conflicts or character growth rather than a series of events, which generally novelettes do instead. Although novellas have limited space for sub-plots and settings, some elements of complexity may still be present and some novellas can truly feel like a full story in their own right, with in depth world building, intricate plots and development of characters. They range in word count from 10,000 to 40,000 words and can span between 100 to 200 pages. In the past, due to financial considerations, novellas were almost exclusively published as part of short story collections. For many stories today this is still the case but there have recently been many successful novellas published by themselves.
Examples Of Novella Lengths And Word Counts:
Many of these are quite famous and have been made into films.
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote is around 26,500 words
- The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is about 28,000 words
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck is 29,550 words
- Animal Farm by George Orwell is roughly 36,000 words
- The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy is 32,000 words
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad which is almost 38,000 words long
- The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros is 40,000 words
- Coraline by Neil Gaiman is 44,000 words
How Long Is A Novel?
This one is much easier. Generally, anything over 40,000 words can be classed as a novel. Sometimes 50,000 and sometimes 60,000 are used as the cut off points. Novels also don’t have an upper limit. They can be as huge as the author wants them to be and some epic fantasy and sci fi famously can come in at several hundred thousand words for a single book.
But not all genres lend themselves well to having an unlimited word count. There tend to be rough guidelines that different genres follow and we have a guide to how long type of novel should be:
Mystery/Thriller: A good suspense story has to keep the plot moving to keep the reader engaged. A general word count for a mystery novel is between 70,000 and 90,000 words.
Horror: Horrors can range quite substantially but many horror novels have been fairly short, especially classics. But then you have Stephen King. A rough guide would be 60,000 – 100,000.
Science fiction and fantasy: Fantasy works best when they have room to build their own worlds, and that can require a lot of words. Therefore, SF/F novels will usually have 90,000 to 120,000 words, but can be much longer. *cough cough* Brandon Sanderson and Peter F. Hamilton (and many more!)
Historical fiction: In a similar vein to SF/F, fleshing out an imagined historical world requires more words, so historical fiction tends to be closer to 100,000 words.
Romance novels: Romantic plots nowadays tend to be fun, fast reads which means a shorter word count. Some are as short as 50,000 words with the higher end word count of romance novels coming in at around 100,000.
Young adult: YA as a genre can vary quite substantially and it’s the same story for YA word counts. 45,000 words seems to be about the minimum for a published modern YA novel but they can get as high as 80,000 words or more.
The main takeaway from this post is that the story that is to be written will work at the length that it needs to be. How that ends up being decided may be partly down to the author and partly down to how they want to publish it.
As you can see, there is some leeway in how these are defined but we hope that this has given you a good idea about what these classifications are and what to expect when reading one of them.
Thanks for reading!
Check out our handy infographic below that can be used as a quick reference for the post!