Stories come in all shapes and sizes. Some fit on the back of a postcard while others span multiple books. Where are the lines drawn? How long is a short story?
What is a short story?
A short story is any fiction story that’s told in few(er) words. Short stories tend to focus on a single plot line, though there are many that successfully weave together more than one. Short stories tend to focus on fewer characters and follow them on a shorter arc than a novel might, while others are about multiple characters with complicated arcs. In other words…Short stories tend to follow the rules of short stories, except when they don’t.
What are some examples of famous short stories? And how long are they?
Here are several famous short stories, with their word counts estimated. (Some word counts in this post come from commonplacebook.com; others I estimated myself. All counts are rounded to the nearest 5 words, except the first below.)
“Baby Shoes” by Ernest Hemingway (6 words)
“Janice” by Shirley Jackson (265 words)
“A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf (750 words)
“One of These Days” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1000 words)
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin (1005 words)
“The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe (2100 words)
“The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry (2165 words)
“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (3775 words)
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce (3800 words)
“The Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield (5555 words)
“Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving (6950 words)
“To Build A Fire” by Jack London (7175 words)
“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allen Poe (7225 words)
So, how long is a short story?
Precise word count definitions will vary, but as a general rule of thumb, a short story is anything up to about 7500 words (sometimes 10,000), with higher word counts typically called novelettes, and short novels called novellas. Within short stories, there is a further breakdown to define super-short stories as flash and micro-flash.
How long is flash fiction?
Flash fiction is under 1000 words (occasionally the upper word count is as high as 1200 or even 1500, and sometimes it is as low as 750).
Some examples of flash fiction you can read online:
If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky (965 words)
The Hulder’s Husband Says Don’t by Kate Lechler (970 words)
If We Live to be Giants by Alison Mulder (980 words)
Women’s Work by Amelia Aldred (985 words)
The Witch in the Tower by Mari Ness (990 words)
Micro-fiction or micro-flash is under 500 words.
Some examples of micro flash you can read online:
The Little Sea Maid by Annika Barranti Klein (me!) (235 words)
Wendy, Darling by A.C. Wise (350 words)
Doctor Chevalier’s Lie by Kate Chopin (385 words)
How long is a short story?
Short stories range from lower word counts of 1000 or 1500 words up to around 7,500 words or occasionally as high as 10,000. The majority of short stories fall under this general definition, and may or may not include flash and even micro-flash.
Some examples of short stories you can read online:
The Joy of Baking by Holly Lyn Walrath (2425 words)
A Nest of Ghosts, A House of Birds by Kat Howard (4500 words)
Bear Language by Martin Cahill (5000 words)
Crow’s Eye by Sarah Hollowell (5015 words)
How long is a novel?
Novelettes are longer short stories, generally between 7,500 words and 17,500 to 20,000 words, or up to about 100 pages. These stories sometimes read more like a short story and sometimes more like a novel.
Some examples of novelettes:
The House of Aunts by Zen Cho (15,000 words)
The Night Train: A Novelette by Evelyn Archer (19,000 words)
Novellas are short novels, from 17,500 or 20,000 words usually up to about 40,000 words, or about 100–200 pages.
Some examples of novellas:
The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (27,405 words)
Passing by Nella Larsen (30,015 words)
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (33,000 words)
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente (41,000 words)
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (53,680 words)
Note: I have included several short novels that are often considered novellas. Word counts from Reading Length.
A novel is anything over about 40,000 words, though some definitions stretch novella up as high as 60,000 words or so.
I won’t link to example novels, as you can find those in just about every other Book Riot post!
What are some good collections of short stories?
I’m so glad you asked!
Ghost Summer by Tananarive Due
Ayiti by Roxane Gay
Lovers’ Choice by Becky Birtha
Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery edited by Sarah Cortez
In the Country by Mia Alvar
Just An Ordinary Day by Shirley Jackson
The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer