Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Long on Short Fiction

Yesterday at Falen Formulates Fiction, I learned the short story I entered in Sarah Ahiers's 100 Followers Contest won third place! I was thrilled -- thanks, Sarah!

I encourage anyone who has never written a short story to give it a try. Writing shorts is an excellent way to experiment with your craft. We grow as writers when we challenge ourselves, step outside our writing comfort zones. However, embarking on a lengthy project with a complicated plot and large cast of characters may overwhelm an author who's writing out of her box. A short only deals with one significant moment in time, so whether you've never written from the omniscient viewpoint, or you want to attempt speculative fiction, the short story format is the perfect platform to try it out.

In the "short" category, there are a few formats to choose from:

Flash Fiction

This is the shortest of the shorts. There's no definitive definition for flash fiction, but most agree a story under 1,000 words is flash. Despite its brevity, flash fiction still must have a clear beginning, strong middle, and definite end. It should include exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Otherwise it is not flash fiction, but rather a vignette or scene.

Read this excellent article to better understand Flash Fiction.

Short Story

A short story is said to be a story you can read in one sitting. Again, the length of this format is debated and often comes down to the submission guidelines of each contest, magazine, or anthology. The most adhered to definition of a modern short story is one which has no more than 20,000 words and no less than 1,000.

This detailed article explains how to write a short story.

[Update: Thanks to Lindsay Duncan @ Unicorn Ramblings for pointing out that there is another format nestled in here between short story and novella. The Novelette is a category of short fiction said to have a word count between 7,500 and 17,499 words (according to Wikipedia) However, the same article points out that "The terms novelette and novelettish can also be derogatory, suggesting fiction which is 'trite, feeble or sentimental'."

When I checked online dictionaries, I found in Free Online Dictionary that the first definition of a novelette is "an extended narrative or short story," while the second definition is "a novel that is regarded as being slight, trivial, or sentimental." (HERE) And on the single definition for novelette is "a short novel, sometimes, specif., one regarded as inferior in quality, banal, overly commercial, etc." (HERE) Thanks, Lindsay, for your comment that led to this research!]


A novella is a renegade literary form in that it characterizes both a short story and a novel. Like a short story, a novella has a somewhat concise plot. The time frame is generally compact, and the reader often knows little about what happened before or after the time period of the story. A novella also mimics a novel because the story is organized in chapter-like segments and enjoys the freedom to explore its characters and plot in greater depth than does a short story. It typically is said to have between 17,500 words and 40,000.

Examples of famous novellas include John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Have you ever written a short story? What's your favorite platform for experimenting with your craft?