Story length

September 18, 2011

I know many readers still think of novel length in pages, but that is not a reliable measure since page count is influenced by font, font size, margin width, white space between lines, etc. Depending on the formatting, you could have 150-800 words on a page.

With the spread of e-books, page count is becoming an even more unreliable measure of story length. The number of words on a page varies widely with the e-reader, file type, formatting, and zoom level.

File size (kb) is even less accurate since it’s influenced by the size of the cover art.

Therefore, the best measure of book length is word count.

Different publishers may vary on the exact word count they consider a short story, novelette, or novel to have. The Science Fiction Writers of America uses the following definitions:

  • short story: up to 7,500 words
  • novelette: 7,500-17,500 words
  • novella: 17,500-40,000 words
  • novel: 40,000 words and more.

It’s not just a matter of word count, though:

Short stories give us a glimpse into a moment in the life of a character. Novellas have room for the development of one or two characters over a longer stretch of time. Novels can support multiple characters and subplots and cover larger areas and time spans.

In August, I set out to write a short story for an anthology. Well, if you know the length of my novels, you can probably guess how that endeavor turned out.  The “short story” is now a novella with 30,000 words (and counting). I personally find it easier and more interesting to write novellas or novels than short stories. A large part of what motivates me to write is developing the characters and that’s easier to do in longer works.

I did manage to finish a 4,600-word story last night, though. Finally, a short story! 🙂


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