When writing your fictional stories, they will take shape in one of the following basic forms, each varying in length/word count:
- Short Stories
- Flash Fiction
The obvious difference, for the most part, is their word count/length. There are subsets of each of these, but these four are the main types. However, at a deeper level there are other differences – just as there are differences between bourbon and Scotch whiskey.
Novels and Novellas
The main distinction of the novel is the breadth of its scope. Novels contain multiple characters, incidents, settings, and moods. It’s really an entire world. If you’re writing a novel, you need enough “stuff” to sustain reader interest through hundreds of pages.
Novels traditionally run between 150-300 pages in published form. On occasion they run as long as 1,000 pages. For those counting, the average traditionally published novel is at least 80,000 words, which are 320 double spaced pages in a 12 point Times New Roman font. A novel can run as low as 40,000 words which is about 160 pages.
With the ever evolving ebook format, the standardization of novel lengths, a formula established by the increasingly obsolete traditional publishing model, is changing. It’s becoming more subjective. The importance is more about telling a compelling story from beginning to end – regardless of whether it’s done in 150, 350 or 1,050 pages.
A shorter version of the novel is the Novella. It contains all the elements of a novel, but in shorter form. Some of the best literary works in history are novellas. The word count typically runs from 15,000 – 40,000 words.
Short Stories and Flash Fiction
The key to a Short Story is focus. Short stories usually stay focused on one or more of the following:
- A single character
- A single incident
- A single time
- A single place
- A single mood
Short stories usually span 1,000 – 15,000 words, which is 60-70 pages double-spaced in a 12 point font. Short fiction was once very popular in most mainstream magazines before interest waned. But as ebook popularity grows, combined with time-pressed readers with short attention spans, Short Stories are enjoying resurgence.
Flash Fiction has also become very popular as of late. It has the same elements as a Short Story, but now you need to be laser focused, and grammatically economic to tell a complete story in 300 – 1,000 words.
If you’re just starting out as a fiction writer, short stories and flash fiction are the best entry point. It’s not that they’re easier to write than novels and novellas; in fact, most agree the extreme economy makes them more challenging to do well. But when writing a short or flash story, you’ll spend less time drafting and revising the piece, and this will give you a chance to get the hang of the whole process.
A good analogy is learning to pilot a boat. It’s much easier to learn all the basics going across a bay than going out into the open Atlantic Ocean to sail down to the Caribbean. Your short or flash story can serve as a warm-up to a novel. Or if you find your short story really needs to expand, you can always take it into a longer form. Another idea is to collect a series of relatable short stories into an anthology.
For the purposes of this series, it’s recommended you begin writing in the short fiction form.