A couple of weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on writing short fiction and in the comments, someone asked, “How short is short fiction?”
That’s a loaded question because, like poetic forms, short fiction comes in a host of forms and lengths and changes with the times.
This sample list of interesting short fiction forms and their word counts comes from a seminar I gave a few years ago at the Ontario Writers’ Conference:
Six word stories
Should provide a moment of conflict, action, and resolution that gives the sense of a complete story transpiring in a moment’s reading.
Fiction in 140 characters or less.
Expresso Stories – 25 words or less
A literary form for today’s frothed-up, on-the-hoof, want-it-all-now consumer lifestyle: complete stories that take no longer to read than an espresso takes to slurp.
Hint Fiction – 25 words or less
A hinting story, should do in twenty-five words what it could do in twenty-five hundred, that is, it “should be complete by standing by itself as its own little world.”
Trifextra – exactly 33 words
Stories written from prompts, and having something to with the number three.
Trifecta – no fewer than 33 and no more than 333 words.
A competition in which writers are given a one-word prompt, use the third given definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary to write a story between 33 and 333 words.
Minisaga, mini saga or mini-saga – exactly 50 words [AKA ultra-shorts or microstory.]
Started by The Daily Telegraph and used in business as an educational tool to stimulate creativity. They are often funny or surprising and are described as “bite-sized lessons for life and business.”
Dribble Fiction – exactly 50 words
An offshoot of Drabble with the word count reduced to 50 words.
55 Fiction – 55 words
From the New Times short story contest. 55 Fiction has: a setting; one or more characters; conflict and resolution.
Postcard Fiction – usually 50 words or less but up to 250
Literary exploration, usually inspired by photographs and able to fit on a standard size postcard.
Micro fiction – under 100 words
A complete fictional story in a limited number of words in any genre.
Drabble Fiction – exactly 100 words
Originated in UK science fiction fandom in the 1980s. Drabble calls for brevity, testing the author’s ability to express interesting and meaningful ideas in a confined space.
Feghoot or Shaggy dog story – usually 100 to 250 words
Usually sci-fi, centers around or concludes with a pun, has a title character in a dangerous situation, any place in the galaxy, any past or future time. Can involve the travelling device with no name, represented as the “)(“.
Haibun – usually 100 to 1000 words.
English haibun is of one or more paragraphs of prose coupled with one or more haiku. It may record a scene, or a special moment, in a highly descriptive and objective manner or may occupy a wholly fictional or dream-like space. Accompanying haiku has a direct or subtle relationship with the prose.
Short Story 1000 to 15000 words.
Word count varies with publication form: collections, anthologies, magazines, or journals; print or on-line; genre or not. Print costs for journals, magazines and anthologies usually keep the count between 2000 – 4000.Genre stories for anthology collections can go to 7500 words. Single author collections often have one longer story up to 15000 words coupled with shorter stories.
Novellette – 7500 to 17500
Novella – 17500 to 40,000, sometimes 50000
- Write your story the length it needs to be without thinking about word limits. Decide afterwards if you want to edit it to fit a certain count.
- If you hope to sell your story, figure out what magazines or anthologies would be the best fit for the content/genre/style of your story, then look up their submission guidelines.
- For contests, don’t ever exceed the stated limit.