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Episode 020: Find the Right Length for Your Story, Pt. 2


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Reasons to Write Short Fiction

1 It’s a Great Place to Start – Build Your Skills – Confidence Builders – Great Training Ground

  1. Writing short stories is a great way to build your understanding of genres and audiences. For instance, Mark Twain published short stories in his local newspaper more than 20 years before his first novel, helping him to develop his inimitable voice.

  2. Writing short will help you to learn pacing, structure, and spare writing. You’ll learn to make every word count while working to make a character or a setting to come alive. All these skills also come in handy during novel revision time.

2 Test or Flesh out a Character and/or Story IdeaClear Out Writing Distractions

  1. If you’re not sure about whether the project you’re considering (or working on) is a story or merely a premise or interesting subject, write a short story about it and see where it takes you. Hemingway reportedly wrote dozens of stories featuring a character named Nick Adams both before and after his first breakthrough novel was published.

  2. If you want to know more about a character’s backstory, consider writing a short story about it.

  3. It helps you deal with the distractions caused by the other stories that are scratching at the door (or what Eric Knabel referred to in his interview as “Shiny Project Syndrome”). There’s a quote by some famous writer that I can’t find when I need it, but it goes something like: “Having been assigned to write on Vermont, I find myself obsessed with Mississippi.” Deal with your “Shiny Project Syndrome” by taking a little of the pressure off. Take a couple of hours and write up a draft of a short (or a short-short) story. Then put it aside to get back to your main project.

3 Discoverability – Gain visibility – Resume Builders

  1. You can get published sooner. There are more than twice as many literary magazines that publish short stories as there are book publishers. More than twice as many ponds to fish in. Stephen King famously had a stack of rejections on his wall when he was getting started. But eventually, he had some acceptances, too. And that was enough to keep him writing. Which is why a lot of people urge writers to go for 100 rejections a year. because you’re likely to get some acceptances mixed in there, too. It’s like Ray Bradbury said: if you write a short story a week for a year, you literally can’t write 52 bad stories in a row. Some of them are going to be exactly what a publisher is looking for.

  2. Plus, agents and sometimes movie producers are known to read short stories, keeping an eye out for talented writers.

4 Learn the Publishing World Sooner – Develop Your Submission Systems

  1. It forces you to set up your submission systems that much sooner. The sooner you get in the rhythm of submitting often and tracking everything, the better.

  2. It helps you get the hang of looking for submission guidelines, appropriate markets for your work, etc.

  3. It toughens up that skin. You’ll get a better understanding that rejection is a part of the process and develop your best way of dealing with it.

5 For Their Potential – Other Uses – Marketing Tools

  1. You can assemble them in a collection and go either the traditional or indie publishing route to get them out into the world en masse. Short story collections are more popular than ever.

  2. I took a short story class to give my writing habit a kick in the pants. I literally just wanted some deadlines. Crazy things have come out of it, including a 3rd Place Finish in the 2019 Colorado Gold Fiction Contest for Molly Bright, my novel-in-stories that all started with the stories I wrote in that class.

  3. You can offer them up as a taste of your work to new readers, like a little amuse-bouche to showcase your skills and entice readers to pick up more of your work. They work great as either a self-published work or in exchange for someone signing up for your email list.

  4. For loyal fans of your work who are impatiently waiting for your next book, you can provide a short story “snack” for them while they wait for your next book.

6 For the Fun of It

  1. It doesn’t have the pressure or time commitment of a novel.

  2. You can tell a story that just wants to be told and let that be that. You don’t have to do anything with it right away.

  3. Here comes another Stephen King reference, because, well, he’s Stephen King. Here’s what he has to say in the introduction to The Bazaar of Dreams, his 2015 short story collection:

“You’d be surprised – at least, I think you would be – at how many people ask me why I still write short stories. The reason is pretty simple: writing them makes me happy, because I was built to entertain. I can’t play the guitar very well, and I can’t tap-dance at all, but I can do this. So I do….[T]here’s something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience. It can be invigorating, sometimes even shocking, like a waltz with a stranger you will never see again, or a kiss in the dark….“ Stephen King, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

Short Stories (1,000 to 7,500 words)

  1. Depending on who you ask, the short story is either having a resurgence in popularity or it never stopped being popular. No matter which theory you subscribe to, raw numbers indicate that sales of short story collections are on the rise. And, of course, there are thousands of places to read short stories, including tons and tons of print and online journals.

  2. You never know where your short stories might take you. After “Cat Person,” a short story by Kristen Roupenian, went viral, it landed her a 1.2 million dollar advance from Scott Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, for her short story collection, You Know You Want This. HBO bought the development rights to the collection for a drama series intended to prioritize women’s voices and points of view.

Novelettes (7,500 to 17,500 words)

  1. Famous novelettes – The Fall of the House of Usher (11,165), The Little Prince (16,534), The Call of Cthulhu (11,905), The Metamorphosis (16,000).

Novellas (17,500 to 40,000 words)

  1. Shawshank Redemption (38,000) – It has been the #1 movie on IMDB’s user-generated Top 250 films since 2008, just ahead of The Godfather 1 and 2.

  2. Animal Farm (30K), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (26,433), A Christmas Carol (28,500), Heart of Darkness (38,000), Of Mice and Men (29,160), The Old Man and the Sea (26,601), The Stranger (36,750), The War of the Worlds, The Awakening, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Turn of the Screw, Shopgirl, Brokeback Mountain, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Pearl, The Time Machine, True Grit, Flowers for Algernon, Heartburn, The Sense of an Ending

“Some presses, though welcoming novellas, simply haven’t received any they like. Some, like Brooklyn Arts Press, haven’t received any novellas at all – but the press is really open to them. Publisher/editor-in-chief Joe Pan says, ‘I’d love to publish a novella at some point, but people don’t submit novellas to me. They submit short fiction, flash fiction collections, collections of prose poems, or novels. For me, a small press publisher, a novella would be a perfect sale, because fiction sells better than poetry, generally, and shorter novels cost less to produce. Win-win.'” The Novella: Stepping Stoe to Success or Waste of Time? by Jack Smith



  1. 4 Reasons to Write Short Stories by Joe Bunting

  2. 5 Reasons Novelists Should Write Short Stories by Maggie Doonan

  3. 5 Reasons Why Writing Short Stories Makes You a Better Writer by N.A. Turner

  4. 7 Reasons to Write a Short Story by Stacy Woodson

  5. 12 Things I Noticed While Reading Every Short Story Published in 2014-15 by Kelly Luce

  6. Best Knock-out Novelettes – Novellas by Goodreads

  7. Complete Fiction: Why ‘The Short story Renaissance’ Is a Myth by Chris Power

  8. Differences Between a Short Story, Novelette, Novella, & a Novel by Syed Hunbbel Meer

  9. How to Write a Novella by E. A. Deverell

  10. List of Novellas by Wikipedia

  11. Novella by Wikipedia

  12. The Novella: Stepping Stoe to Success or Waste of Time? by Jack Smith

  13. The Rise of the Short Story by Laurie Hertzel

  14. Short Fiction Forms: Novella, Novelette, Short Story, and Flash Fiction Defined by Author Learning Center

  15. Short Story Writers Peter Orner & Ben Marcus on Writers on Writing, KUI-FM

  16. Shorter Fiction is In! All About Novellas, Novelettes, Stories & Flash by Mara Purl

  17. Stories and Novelettes and Novellas, oh my! by Jeffrey Allan Boman

  18. What is a Novelette? And is it Worth Writing One? by Nathan Phillips

  19. Word Counts by Fiction Genre and Type with Examples by Kenna Jackson

Places to Submit and/or Read Short Stories, Novelettes, and Novellas

  1. Black Orchid Novella Award

  2. Hugo Awards

  3. Nebula Awards

  4. Rita Awards

  5. Screencraft Cinematic Short Story Contest

  6. Shirley Jackson Award

A reminder/overview of the commonly-accepted ranges for different types of fiction.

LengthSix-Word Story6 wordsAmerican SentenceOne sentence with exactly twelve syllablesTwitterature280-characters or lessHint Fiction25 words or less50-Word Stories/Ultra-Shorts/Minisaga/Dribble50 to 55 words or less (Sometimes exactly 50 words with up to a 15 character title or exactly 55 words with up to a 7 word title)Micro Fiction/Drabble100 words or lessMicrostory250-300 words or lessSudden Fiction750 words or lessFlash Fiction100 to 1,500 words (Usually 1,000 words or less)Short Story1,000 to 7,500 wordsNovelette7,500 to 17,500 wordsNovella17,500 to 40,000 wordsNovel40,000 to 125,000 words (80,000 words – sweet spot)Epic or Super Novel125,000+ wordsSeries2 or more connected novels Unlimited words

#ErnestHemingway #anthology #KristenRoupenian #Stephenking #collections #EricKnabel #MarkTwain #Shortstories #Film #quotCatPersonquot #shortstory #ColoradoGold #novella #100rejections #Contests #novelette

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