How Long Should My Story Be?
"I Can't Do It"
Many people look at stories like ‘War And Peace’ or ‘The Stand’ and want to give up. It can be awe-inspiring to see that kind of length from any author. It can be enough to send new writers heading for their couch instead of their computer. But should we really hold ourselves to certain word lengths when an idea strikes? I’d like to look at different word lengths for stories to give you and your next book idea hope!
50 – 1,000 Words
Pieces that fall in this area are considered ‘flash fiction’ and usually encompass one scene that is brief and to the point. There’s not a lot of flowery description here and the main thrust of the story is very focused. If you are into an action sequence, you might be a flash fiction author without realizing it! Also, if you are in a children’s genre, a 500 word length can be more than enough to get one line per page in a great kids book.
3,000 – 7,500 Words
Welcome to the short story length. An idea of this length might encompass a few scenes, a bit of description but still carry that strongly focused plot that doesn’t have a lot of backstory or side plots going on. If most of your writing is in a narrative style, telling one main point or covering one main character, you are probably a short story writer. Don’t fret if you are in this category. Many websites buy stories of this length as they fit well into magazines!
7,500 – 17,000 Words
This is the land of the Novelette – no longer short enough to comfortably read in one sitting and yet, not big enough to encompass all the stuff of a full novel. If you crank these out with ease, you might consider bundling a few of them together and creating an anthology of stories. This might include a plot twist and more than one main character, but still doesn’t yet dive headlong into total flashbacks, descriptions and the like.
17,000 – 40,000 Words
You’ve arrived at official Novella length! For over 7 centuries, writers have been penning amazing stories of this length, so you are in good company. If you don’t find your story going past the 40,000 word mark, it’s ok. You have adequate elbow room in a book this size to throw in a plot twist, a backstory, multiple characters and show a great story arc without forcing out needless extra words.
40,000 – 100,000 Words
If your word count is landing in this range, you’ve written a novel. You have fleshed out your descriptions and characters to a point where you have full cast going on in a rather complete world. Just don’t skip editing to reach this plateau. Make the effort to keep your plot going and take out scenes that don’t advance the plot so your reader doesn’t lose interest. Most genre novels fall in this length.
100,000 – 200,000 Words
Now we’re into Epic size territory. Sci-fi novels fall into this category many times simply because the amount of description it takes to create a completely new world or species of beings demands it. If you have written a genre fiction piece (romance, mystery, crime, etc) consider where you might cut your manuscript in half. Something of this length can often be broken up to give the reader a more manageable sized read (and give you more to work with when it comes to marketing a finished product!).
So where is your latest project? Still a short story? Halfway to a novel?
Wherever you are at, celebrate your writing today.
Every paragraph you create is one more than someone else who is too shy to write. And every mediocre story you finish helps you learn the craft to be able to produce a better story next time. Don’t give up and don’t quit. No one length is any better than any other length as there are markets for all sorts of stories. Let the characters lead you on a journey and tell their story as best you can! I know you can do it!