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How Long is a Short Story? Finding Fiction’s Sweet Spot

Julia McCoy
Tuesday, 9th Jan 2024
Julia McCoy
5 min read · Jan 11 2022
how long is a short story

Edgar Allan Poe once said, “A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” You’ve got an idea buzzing in your head, ready to unfurl into a captivating narrative. But hold on—how long is a short story?

It’s not just about spinning yarns; there’s an art to packing punch into limited space.

From the snap of flash fiction stories to longer tales that tease out tension over several pages, understanding this balance is key.

In this piece, you’ll discover what makes short stories tick — their word counts ranging from 1,000 up to 10,000 words — and how these compact forms compare with novellas or full-length novels. Get the scoop on where you can submit your work and find tips for honing those crucial storytelling skills within strict word count limits.

We’re cutting through the clutter with practical insights because when it comes to crafting memorable fiction swiftly and succinctly — a writer like you needs clear answers.

Table Of Contents:

Defining the Short Story: Word Counts and Characteristics

A short story packs a punch with fewer words than your average novel, typically hitting between 1,000 to 10,000 on the word count scale.

This literary form is all about brevity while still telling a complete tale — think of it as Ernest Hemingway’s famous six-word story “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Flash Fiction vs. Short Stories

The difference between flash fiction and short stories isn’t just in their lengths but also in how they tackle storytelling.

While flash fiction often wraps up within an impressive sub-1,000-word limit — it forces writers like Charlotte Perkins Gilman or Edgar Allan Poe to distill their narratives into the purest form of storytelling where every word works hard.

You’ll find that these shorter pieces can be more challenging to write because they need the same depth as longer shorts without any room for fluff.

The Average Length of Published Short Stories

If you’re looking at traditional publishing avenues or aiming for inclusion in literary magazines, expect editors to prefer those sweet spots around 5,100 words — that’s what big names such as Joyce Carol Oates might aim for when crafting their tales.

Submission guidelines will spell out strict word counts, so whether you’re penning something reminiscent of Roald Dahl‘s dark humor or diving into sci-fi realms à la Ray Bradbury, keeping an eye on length matters if you want that acceptance letter.

Dive into the art of crafting a short story with these sweet spots: 1,000-10,000 words for impact,  Click to Tweet

Comparing Forms: Novella, Novel, and Short Story

We often find ourselves lost in the pages of a hefty novel or whisked away by the succinct charm of a short story.

Nailing down their differences can be as tricky as baking a soufflé.

Novels serve up generous portions with room for multiple themes and complex character arcs; think “Animal Farm” by George Orwell or Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.

A novella sits cozily between its literary cousins, neither an epic feast nor a quick snack.

Their lengths stretch from 17,500 to around 40,000 words — a perfect middle ground offering depth without the marathon commitment of book writing required for novels.

Nuanced Differences Between Each Form

In this compact space where each word matters more than ever, we see strict word counts become part and parcel of the challenge and allure of crafting stories that resonate deeply yet briefly.

This contrasts sharply with longer forms where authors have more allowance to develop plots and characters across chapters upon chapters.

The novella length provides enough canvas for some development but demands brevity too — it’s an art form unto itself.

Fulfilling Distinct Audience Expectations

The expectations here are clear: readers looking to dive deep without drowning in details lean towards novellas while those ready for immersion choose novels.

The New Yorker, known for publishing standout pieces spanning various lengths, showcases how different formats cater to the appetite of diverse readers.

Literary magazines worldwide also acknowledge this variety through publications that reflect many reading moods.

Key Takeaway: Short stories whisk you away with brevity, novellas offer depth without the long haul, and novels give a full dive into complex worlds. Like picking from a diner menu based on your hunger, choose your read by how deep you want to go.

Influential Authors and Their Iconic Short Stories

The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

When you think of Edgar Allan Poe, “The Tell-Tale Heart” likely comes to mind.

This story grips us with suspense in just a few pages.

Poe’s knack for haunting detail shows why he’s the master of short fiction.

The narrative precision in Poe’s tale sets it apart as an emblematic piece within its genre.

Every word works hard to build tension, much like the infamous beating heart beneath the floorboards.

This approach helped shape modern standards for story length and content quality that we still see today in literary magazines and traditional publishing avenues.

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is another cornerstone of short literature, challenging societal norms through its riveting storyline.

It may be brief, but every sentence carries weight.

Its lasting impact echoes that brevity can indeed pair with depth.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Brevity in literature has a power all its own.

Tales like “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman unravel the complexities of the human psyche and societal norms within just a few pages.

The story’s lasting influence demonstrates how shorter narratives can still pack an unforgettable punch.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is a testament to this literary form, proving that novella-length works can delve deep into themes such as imperialism and human nature.

In his tightly woven narrative, every word carries weight, letting readers explore profound ideas without wading through volumes of text.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Satire comes alive in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” where the rise and fall of an animal society mirrors historical revolutions with stark clarity.

This allegorical novella remains relevant today because it distills complex political dynamics into an accessible farmyard tale — a skill showing mastery over language and storytelling.

Now that you know how long is a short story and you’ve seen the works of influential authors in this genre, are you ready to give it a shot?

To help you get started, here’s a short story checklist from

Take note of the short story length, fiction story writing style, and how to build out your characters.

Crafting a Compelling Narrative Within Word Count Limits

Storytelling magic happens when every word counts.

The challenge is to weave character development and plot within tight confines, which often means being ruthless in your editing process.

Writing short stories tests our ability to say more with less.

Character Development in Brief Narratives

Brief tales need characters who grab us from the get-go.

You’ve got limited space, so each trait or dialogue must paint a fuller picture.

This isn’t just about giving them quirks but crafting people who feel real enough that readers invest quickly.

Balancing Plot and Brevity

A satisfying story arc can be achieved even with strict word count limits.

The key lies in selecting scenes that show change or conflict without unnecessary fluff.

The New Yorker, for instance, might lean towards pieces where brevity amplifies impact rather than dilutes it.

Dive into the art of short stories where less is more—create real characters and tight plots that pack a punch. #WritingCommunity #ShortStories Click to Tweet

Where to Publish Your Short Story Masterpieces

You’ve got a short story ready, polished until it shines like the top of the Chrysler Building. Now comes the big question: where can you get this gem published?

Literary magazines are gold mines for writers looking to break into publishing. These venues celebrate brevity and pack a punch in literary quality. But they’re not one-size-fits-all.

Landing a story in The New Yorker, a pinnacle for many authors, is like hitting the jackpot. It’s tough but thrilling.

Then we have gems like AGNI, where submitting your work feels less intimidating yet equally rewarding.

Finding that sweet spot requires matching what you’ve created with their editorial standards.

Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing Houses

Sometimes though, creative freedom calls louder than strict guidelines from traditional publishers. That’s when self-publishing becomes appealing — you call the shots on everything from cover design to that crucial word count limit.

  • A flash fiction story under 1,000 words could be perfect as an online read or e-booklet
  • Your 5,100-word average narrative might thrive better within an indie anthology
  • Longer works stretching up to 10,000 words may even blossom into novella territory if given enough room to grow

It’s about finding balance — knowing how long each tale should breathe without suffocating readers with excess — or starving them of substance.

With literary journals leaning towards shorter works and publishing houses often setting strict upper limits, it’s essential to know your options well before deciding which path will give your stories life.

Whether submission at esteemed magazines or going rogue with self-publishing is more your style, the key lies in aligning those carefully crafted narratives with platforms eager for fresh voices.

Cultivating Skills Through Reading and Writing Shorts

Reading and writing short stories isn’t just a pastime; it’s a workout for your creativity muscles.

Shorts offer you the chance to enjoy concise narratives that pack a punch, perfect for the quick reading experience we often crave.

The brevity of shorts challenges writers to develop storytelling skills within tight confines, honing their ability to express ideas clearly and effectively.

Building a Portfolio of Diverse Shorts

A portfolio of diverse shorts showcases more than versatility — it’s proof of your adaptability in today’s marketplace.

To build this kind of portfolio, explore themes across genres, from science fiction’s ‘what if’ questions to the emotional depths found in literary magazines.

Enhancing Creativity With Short-Format Writing

Famous authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Charlotte Perkins Gilman didn’t confine their talents — they let them thrive within shorter story forms.

Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” proves how suspense doesn’t need hundreds of pages but rather precise words at critical moments.

This art form encourages experimentation with narrative techniques that might be too risky for longer pieces yet are ideal when you write short stories.

FAQs – How Long Is a Short Story?

How long is a short story typically?

A typical short story stretches between 1,000 and 10,000 words. It’s brief but packs a punch.

Can a short story be 500 words?

Yes, at 500 words it’s called flash fiction — super quick and still impactful.

Can a short story be over 1,000 words?

Sure can. Most hit the sweet spot above 1,000 but stay under the novella threshold of around 20,000.

Is 1 page a short story?

If you’re concise enough to fit on one page without skimping on substance — it counts.


So, you’ve explored the definition of a short story. You now know how long is a short story — somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 words typically — and why this matters for writers aiming to captivate within tight confines.

Crafting these narratives demands precision as every word must count.

Dive into your characters swiftly but deeply. Balance the plot with brevity to keep readers hooked from start to finish.

Remember those famous authors? They didn’t need more space — they needed the right words.

Publishing paths vary; literary magazines often prefer concise pieces while traditional houses may demand strict lengths. Choose wisely where your story will call home.

In closing, embrace the challenge that comes with shorter forms: they refine your writing and storytelling prowess like no other medium can.

Need to write a quick story but you’re left staring at a blank screen? Get ideas from a smart chatbot! Content at Scale‘s AIMEE can provide you with endless suggestions for your next short story.

Written by Julia McCoy

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