|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!