Vision: A Resource for Writers
Lazette Gifford, Editor
Vision@sff.net

Note from the Editor
Writing Lengths

By Lazette Gifford
2004, Lazette Gifford


I love to write short stories.

I love to write novels.

All right. Yes.  I love to write.  I don't worry about what sort of idea I'm getting when one pops up, whether that's genre or length.  A story will be as long as it needs to be, and forcing a short story into a novel or a novel into a short story isn't doing the story idea justice.  I often play with the length within the definition of novel, novella, novelette, short story and flash -- but the idea itself will usually fall clearly into one of these lengths.

For those who aren't certain about the different lengths, here are the SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) word count guidelines:

  • Novel -- 40,000 words or more

  • Novella -- 17,500 - 39,999 words

  • Novelette -- 7,500 -17,499 words

  • Short Story -- 7,499 words or fewer

In addition I'd add the Flash Fiction length which is usually 1000 words or less, most often defined by the publication. Some are as little as 100 words.

Obviously, novels are rarely as short as 40,000 words, and magazine editors will often say they take short stories up to 10,000 words or more.  You cannot use this chart as the final say -- but it does give a writer some idea of the general lengths to work with.

For many years I was told I was a natural novelists -- that is one of those people who just naturally write novels rather than short stories.  But I found, instead, that I am a natural story teller.  The length was a product of the story, and it just took me a while to find short stories I wanted to tell.

Don't be afraid to try a length you've never attempted before.  Don't be afraid to write the stories you imagine, no matter where they take you or how long they require you to work.

And you will find that within those lengths fall wondrous tales, pretty stories, and dangerous dreams.

They are all yours for the taking.  Let your imagination loose of the fetters imposed by length, genre, and other conventions -- and tell the tales you want.  They will not all sell, but sometimes the joy is just in the telling.

Have fun,

Zette