Short Story, Novella, Novel – what’s the difference?

Many new authors ask, “How long should my story be?”

The simple answer is as long as it takes to tell the story. Unless you are specifically looking to write a novella or a short story, you should be more concerned with telling the story than the word count.

But in case you are wondering, here is a guideline for story lengths. Note though that there is no unanimous consensus on the length of each of these.

Flash Fiction – under 1000 words

Short story – 1,000 to 7,500

Novelette – 7,500-20,000

Novella – 20,000 – 50,000

Novel – Over 50,000

After looking over this list, I decided to take a look at my own books. My full-length novels definitely meet the guideline for novels. Quietus (Book 2 of my trilogy) is the shortest at 81,800 words. My latest release, The Heir to Alexandria, is the longest at 95,800 words.

Book lengthsBut I wrote what I considered a short story as a prequel to my The Elemental trilogy. And compared to books that are on average 88,000 words, a mere 12,200 words is short at about a fourth the length of my novels. But according to the list above, my “short” story, The Search, is actually a novelette.

Be that as it may, I am still marketing it as a short story. I don’t figure many readers will know what a novelette is. (Either way, The Search, is FREE everywhere except for Amazon. Who can turn down a free book?)

But it is more than just about word count. Each of these classifications brings about different images.

Short Story

Often these are meant to explore a particular situation or set of circumstances. Of course, there may be no “purpose” to the story. It could be a simple sketch of characters or situations. They are short enough to be read in a single sitting and typically only have a handful of characters.

Novella

Unlike a novel which may contain more characters and subplots, a novella focuses on a particular point or single issue. It typically does not contain the variety of subplots found in a full-length novel.

Novel

A novel is a long fictional narrative and usually involves more than just a few characters. Compared to a short story or novella, it has a complex plot.

When looking at word length, the genre of the book should also be taken into consideration. Young Adult books tend to be shorter (50,000 to 80,000 words) while science fiction and fantasy tend to be longer (up to 125,000 words).

If your story goes over 110,000 words, you might consider either cutting some words or perhaps splitting it into two books or even expand it into a trilogy.

Remember all of these are merely guides. The most important thing is telling a good, compelling story.

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2 thoughts on “Short Story, Novella, Novel – what’s the difference?

  1. […] sure it is strong enough to sustain a whole novel or perhaps you will decide it is better for a short story or novella or even scrap that plot idea and move on to another […]

  2. […] Hmmm….this means the “short” story I published in 2012 is not really a short story by this definition. I wrote The Search as a prequel to my fantasy trilogy The Elemental. It is 12,200 words. According to the internet, my story is a novelette which is between 7,500 to 20,000 words. (To find out more about the length difference in a short story, a novella and a novel, click here.) […]

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