Expanding Short Story Horizons


A few months ago a wrote a post on short stories. I stand by what I wrote, but I want to expand the horizons a little bit. I was reading a post earlier today that redefined word counts associated with fiction from my previous understanding. I was using the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America scale, but after reading this post at Live Hacked about ebook pricing, I like the scale referenced there better. I haven’t written about pricing or marketing or any of that, but the time is coming for me to become more directly involved in it. I have several stories very near ‘ready-to-be-published’ status and they fall into different categories. So let’s talk about different word counts and what they ‘mean’ for short fiction. I will use part of the scale I found on Live Hacked, which was taken from the Kindle Forum.

Flash Fiction <1000 words

Flash Fiction is a tricky thing. Mostly because we think that if something isn’t long it isn’t worth reading. I disagree. I’m a huge baseball fan, and I enjoy reading baseball cards. I’m also a giant nerd and play Magic: The Gathering. The card effects and quotes are fun to read. I enjoy looking up useless information on wikipedia.

So what if you write a story that takes up only a few pages?

I think it’s perfectly feasible. Plus, these stories would only take a few moments to write and edit. Spend a few weeks writing one of these stories every single day, and you will have a nice collection of stories nearing 14,000 words.

Short Short 1000 – 5000 words

These are my bread and butter. I enjoy writing between 2500 and 5000 word stories. Not too short and not too long. Room for chapters or scenes. Not as long as a novel. They take a week or two to write as opposed to months. Or if you’re really persistent you could knock one out in a few hours I’m sure. Editing is still fairly easy, plus people can beta-read them in one sitting. I find that the story can develop quite well in one of these ‘Short Shorts’ and not leave the reader wanting in quality.

But you should always leave them wanting more 🙂

Short Story 5000 – 10000 words

I just finished writing one of these, and it was quite enjoyable. I clocked in right around 8000 words, but it took me a little while to write it. Because there’s more room for character and plot development these take up more planning time. For instance, the story I wrote has four true acts, something that doesn’t quite develop in the shorter categories. With the longer word count, the story draws you in and feels longer than it actually is. What this does is attach your readers to the characters, and perhaps they will want a series of stories instead of just a one shot.

Another note is that this is the range of most ‘traditional’ Sci Fi short fiction. Philip K. Dick and Isaac  Asimov are a couple of writers who were around this word count with their stories.

Well there we have it. A new classification system for short fiction that fits better than 0-7500 words. I hope this is helpful and ignites some new story ideas in your head that make it to paper. What are your thoughts on these divisions? Let me know, and tell me what you’re working on.