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FAQ: How Long Should My Story Be?

02 Feb

Word length, like many other FAQ’s, does not have an easy answer. It really depends on what you’re writing, what the genre is, how the plot and pacing go, and what the story wants to be. In this digital age we have lot more options. When once novellas were shunned because publishers just didn’t take them. Now they are everywhere because we can publish on our own.

The general guidelines for lengths according to wiki:

Novel over 40,000 words
Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words
Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words
Short story under 7,500 words
(Not on wiki, but under 2k is considered flash fiction by most people.)
This is not necessarily typical for what I’ve seen posted elsewhere. Usually novels are quoted as 60k and over, while novellas are 10-60k. This, to me, seems like a ridiculously large variance.

Another consideration is genre. In romance, 60k is normal, while in sci-fi and fantasy it’s more common to see 80-100k+ novels.

E-books have given us a lot more latitude, though it still is proven that people buy longer books more often. In that case, 80k seems to be a “magic number” in word length, as much as anything is “magic” in the publishing world.

But how long should your story be? Ask your story! Does it have a lot of twists and turns in the plot? Then go longer. Is it a simple vignette, a window into a world instead of the whole world, then go short. I’ve seen stories that are as short as 100 words that are worth a read.

The Egg“, a rather wonderfully poignant short story, has hit the front page of reddit several times, and been shared, remade and reused often. “The Last Question” by Issac Asimov, also comes up a lot. Both of these stories are only a few pages long, and yet people are going to be analyzing and rereading them for years to come.
So yes, you should probably write some longer pieces if you are trying to sell books. But, I would caution you to let the stories tell themselves when you can. Sometimes they are going to be shorter, sometimes longer. This doesn’t necessarily make them wrong. It’s only wrong if you don’t stay true to your story.
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Posted by on February 2, 2014 in Stories

 

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