Short Story Long

Did you know there are word lengths associated with different story types? Oh, you did? Well, yeah, me too. Duh! Right? Ha…heh…okay….

So I have trouble with categorizing things sometimes. When is a short story really short, or just flash fiction? Apparently it’s flash fiction if it’s less than one thousand words. I guess that means I don’t write flash fiction because most of what I write, or at least am brave enough to post here, is typically just over that number. So they’re short stories, right?

Not according to some. Rather, most of what I write is technically flash fiction. Unless it’s a longer story broken into parts so that when you combine them they approach a five to six thousand word count. That seems to be a more acceptable range for a short story. Cross the line of seven thousand words, though, and you’re looking at a novellette. Yep, that’s a word.

See, novellettes aren’t quite novellas (ahem, short books), they’re the in-between category associated with tales that don’t quite make the cut of a short story. To be a novella, you have to push almost twenty thousand words. And, it all has to go by word count, not pages, because different folks appreciate different line spacing and fonts. But that’s a whole other conundrum that seems to cause publishers to jam their staplers.

Novellas can’t be any longer than fifty thousand words. That’s, well, that’s just too many words. If it goes over fifty thousand we have to call it a novel. Then, oh boy, then there are far more issues to deal with. Hard back or paper back? Line spacing, introductions, acknowledgements and by god you’d better have someone to write a review for you that seems to know what they’re talking about or publishers will just wipe their asses with your manuscript.

From a distance it all sounds a bit like Hollywood. You have to know someone who knows someone that slept with the secretary that can make sure the envelope with your precious work ends up on the right desk. Maybe not, I’m just spit-balling.

I’d love to know the history of the development of these length-defining words that slice up the writing world.  It has more to do with publishing than anything else. In order to get something in print you have to submit it to a magazine, or “review”. A lot of them are run by universities, some are independent and others are even run by libraries. They are often physically printed on paper, but many have online versions as well.

To keep things in order, terms like “novellette” have evolved to help select works to be printed, or cast out into the web. While this is great for publishers, it’s pretty terrible for writers. At least, wanna-be writers, like me. Word counts make me nervous. When I write, my story ends when it’s ready to end. Depending on who is reading it, that could be too soon or way overdue. But that’s the beauty of it, so to speak. If I have a word count in mind, the pressure is on to stay within that guideline. Not to mention the task of finding a publication willing to accept the story I’ve written within the guideline.

It’s bad enough to be critical of oneself; to write something and care about it enough to constantly wonder if it’s good or not. It’s even worse to have to send it in to someone that will judge it, and by the way, you have to pay to submit it. Also, it may or may not be published. In the end you’re out of anywhere between $3 to $20 and all hope you had in yourself or your ability to create something special. The very worst scenario? Submitting a work, paying for it, and having it rejected because it didn’t meet a word count requirement.

Maybe writing (typing) the words out, letting them fall (appear) as they will in their own time and submitting the work to a publication that finds its length acceptable is just the way to go. But as I previously mentioned, finding the publication can be a task all its own. It’s incredibly time consuming. The question, then, is why bother in the first place?

Well, long story short, like everyone else in the world, I just want the ability to be creative.


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