Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Writing Short Fiction Part I: What is a short story?

Okay, so I think it's time for another little blog series, this time on writing short fiction. A subject dear to my heart. I have written dozens of short stories and spent seven years as an editor of short fiction. If short stories are something you're interested in writing, hopefully I'll have some useful information. Feel free to leave questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them!
Photo by Julien Tromeur

What is a short story?

Let's start with some official definitions.

According to SFWA:

Less than 7500 words = short story (I would add that less than 1000 is considered flash fiction.)
7500-17.5K = novelette
17.5K-40K = novella
40K and up = novel

Why is it important to know this? Well, when if you want to sell your short fiction to a magazine or anthology, it's important to know what length they are looking for. In general, it's easier to sell a short story than a novelette or novella, especially for a first-time author. Back in the day, when I started writing, I was told that novellas were almost impossible to sell. That is true, or was anyway, but the rise in e-books has had the happy side effect of bringing about the return of the novella. I like that because I think novellas are fun to write. It's a length that really works well for me.

Aside from knowing what length your short fiction should be, you should also understand that some kinds of shorter works may fall into the length category without really being short stories. Some examples: articles, personal essays, slice of life stories (just a nice little description of life without any real conflict), allegory,  and joke stories (basically just a set-up and a punchline. Most flash fiction falls into this category.)

There are markets for all of the above types of short writing, so if that's what you want to write, that's great. But for purposes of this blog series, I will be discussing short works that have the elements of a story: plot (with conflict and resolution), character, and setting--which are usually shown and not told.

There are some types of shorter works that don't qualify as stories and don't really have any market. That includes novel synopses and chapters or excerpts of longer works.

But we'll discuss that more in Part II: How to write a great short story!


ali cross said...

Ah! And you are the QUEEN of short stories! Best person to get this advice from ever. Thanks for sharing Angie!

Carolyn V said...

Love the short stories! I had to write one for a college course. It was harder than I thought it would be. ;)

Stacy Henrie said...

I don't think I could write a short story to save my life. :)

Terry W. Ervin II said...

A preview? How to write a good short story begins by reading and studying good short stories.

Angie said...

Yes! Great advice, Terry.