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Novel, Novella or Short Story: Word Counts and Why They Matter

A bookshelf lined with books of varying size and height. They represent novels, novellas and short stories.

Have you ever wondered what constitutes a novel? What's the difference between a novella and a short story?

Have you written a story but don't know in which category it falls?

Stories come in differing lengths and knowing how to define them will help you promote your book and appease reader expectations.

Novel, novella or short story: Book-length classification

  • Flash fiction: A maximum word count of 1,500.

  • Short story: Between 1,500 and 7,500 words.

  • Novelette: Between 7,500 and 17,500 words.

  • Novella: Between 17,500 and 40,000 words.

  • Novel: Anything above 40,000 words.

Flash fiction

As you can see by the word count, flash fiction is a short-form story that typically encapsulates one event with minimal characters.

However, it still needs all the elements of a full-length story, such as character development and plot so the story feels complete when the reader gets to the end. But it will skip things like backstories or excessive detail.

Flash fiction authors will be ruthless editors, writing concisely, and using sharp and to-the-point language to effectively tell their story.

Top tips for writing flash fiction

  • Start with the plot

Due to the unforgiving word count, flash fiction is best written when you start with the bare bones of the story.

This helps you to focus on what's important before adding detail and descriptive language to pad out the narrative.

  • End with a boom

The last line should leave your reader thinking and trying to piece together what all your ideas mean.

Good flash fiction evokes questions and is what generally draws readers to love it.

Short story

It can be helpful to think of a short story as an episode of a TV programme.

It will usually have one main theme, two or three characters and take place in one (maybe two) setting(s).

You still need to be mindful not to get drawn into character backstories, but you have more freedom to add to the drama by using descriptive language to create the likes of tone, mood and imagery.


Novelettes tend to be regarded as sentimental or whimsical and lend themselves well to the romance genre.

It needs to tell a complete, stand-alone story, though still tends to focus on one central conflict and fast pacing due to the restrictive word count.


With the word count racking up, a novella allows you to explore a bit more, fleshing out some extra detail that builds upon your main character and overall plot and arc.

You can better define your conflict and include a more complex plotline.


The most popular form of writing sought out by readers and publishers, the commercial length of a novel is typically between 75,000 and 90,000 words.

A novel allows you to reach deep within and spill your creativity onto the page.

No longer experiencing word-count limitations, you can introduce complex characters, imagine multiple scenes or stumble on numerous problems.

The possibilities for world-building and character development are now limitless, so long as it's key to your story.

Fantasy books can often reach in the region of 200,000 words. These are called epics.

Post takeaways

Different word counts represent different types of fiction.

Each type has its own pros and cons and requires essential skills for each. Just because a short story denotes a much smaller word count than a full-length novel, doesn't mean it's any easier to write.

A writer will need to look at what they hope to achieve and experiment to find what suits them best.


Are you considering trying your hand at a new type of fiction?

I'd love to hear how you get on.


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