Novella? Short Story? And What’s Flash Fiction?

I embarrass myself when I use terms my friends don’t know. It’s an inconsiderate thing to do, but I’m really not trying to sound smart or on a higher level.

In my tight focus on writing studies, I often think this is stuff everyone already knows and I’m playing catch up. That’s not always the case. So let me apologize, back up, and explain some of the cute terminology I use in the wonderful world of fiction.

Flash Fiction

Let’s start small. Perhaps the least known term in my vocabulary is flash fiction (AKA short, short stories). On, they say I’ve mastered this form of writing by pushing me to the Masters Level (still not comfortable with that) in the Weekly Writing Challenge. All I know is, flash fiction is crazy fun to write and just as fun to read. Here’s one of mine: I Didn’t Know You Were…

With a challenge entry, the max word count is set at 750 words. Sound easy? No way. It’s actually harder to tell a complete story in such limited space. Characterization, setting, descriptions, conflict, moral-of-the-story…you have to get in and out so fast it’s easy to miss important elements. A comment I saw more than once went along the lines of, “Great story, but I think it would really benefit from a higher word count.” Then there are times when just 500 words is more than sufficient. It’s an art, no doubt.

There are no industry standards on any of these terms. It varies greatly depending on the genre or publication. In my research, though, the consensus for flash fiction is 1,000 words or less. (About 2 Word doc pages)

Short Story

Things get sticky in this category, especially with the term still being used to describe what can now be defined as flash fiction or novella.

I love reading (and writing) short stories. They give me enough to really satisfy my curiosity about the character and plot, bringing the story to a dynamic conclusion—all without leaving my chair once. That’s the hallmark of a short story. You should be able to read it in one sitting.

This is an important term to understand if you buy ebooks. Always check the description and word/page count. You might think you’re getting a full length novel, when in actuality it’s a short story. Typically, short stories range from 1,000-10,000 words. Again, genre plays a big part.


Never heard that one before? Neither had I, until I started writing again seriously a few years ago.

Personally, I have a hard time calling anything less than 20,000 words a novella. But if we didn’t, what would we call those tweens? Oh, I almost forgot! Novelette.  Hmmm, another term to confuse people. Glad I’m not evil.

I’ve never written a novella, but I’m on that track with my new series. Can’t get into that here, but let’s just say it’s a blast. This length gives you room for more characters and more story. It pulls up short of a novel, making it the perfect size for avid readers with a short attention span.

Some writers want to call their 50,000 or 60,000 word manuscripts a novel. The culprit of this is probably National Novel Writing Month. It challenges you to “write a novel in a month.” The goal is 50,000 words. But go pitch that to a publishing company and be prepared for rejection. The minimum is usually 80,000 words and can go as high as 120,000. But then we have the genre thing again. Some sci-fi book competitions consider it a novel at 40,000 words. Go figure.


I don’t feel the need to get in depth with this one. We’ve all read the ancient (but still loved) tomes, to the thinner paperbacks from our favorite authors today.

I’ve already indicated novel word count, so here’s just another tip for browsing ebooks when all they give is the number of words. There are different ways to measure, but I did my own quick estimation on the last novel I read. Seems the pages averaged 330 words each. Don’t hold me to that, but it’s what I’m using. So when an ebook says it 96,000 words, I’d say it’s about a 290 page book. Just a guess.

Micro Fiction

I know I’m jumping around a bit here, but I can do it if my characters can! Okay, enough rant. Micro fiction is tiny. This is when you can tell a story in about the length of a Tweet. Or maybe a little longer than that, as in the case of my good friend, Jan Ackerson. Check out her blog, One Hundred Words for some awesome examples of micro fiction. 


Hope that helps clear up my insulting use of these terms. And maybe my explanation was a little less boring yet more informative than Wikipedia.


For Him,

Sarah Elisabeth

P.S. If you haven’t already, grab a copy of my .99 cent e-book (yes, I published one before I ever had an e-reader) Third Side of the Coin, Seven Flash Fictions. If you have, I pray you were blessed, encouraged and left with more hope than you had before.

Amazon for Kindle: Third Side of the Coin, Seven Flash Fictions

Barnes and Noble for Nook: Third Side of the Coin, Seven Flash Fictions