How long can a short story be is one of the most common questions that new writers struggle with. The bad news here is that this is not the only area where writers can face problems. The process of writing a short story can confuse many writers, particularly those who are pursuing this medium for the very first time.
When it comes to writing short stories, there are certain factors that you need to take into consideration. For this reason, we’re going to not only answer your question of how long can a short story be but also focus on some other important factors about it including finding the answer to your initial question of how long can a short story be?
1. How Long Can a Short Story Be?
To be honest, short stories can be as long as 10,000 to 15,000 words but there are some publications that also accept 30,000 words for short stories. Anything longer than this can be a novella or a light novel.
However, there is some debate about it, with many people considering that 20,000 to 30,000 words is too much. That’s why it’s not always encouraged to write a long short story that is stretched to the maximum word count. An example of this can be seen with The Dead, a short story by James Joyce.
It has a word count of 15, 952 words and is often considered to be in the realm of novellas. However, there are not enough words to have it classified as one. In short, it is considered a short story, albeit a longer one. This kind of ambiguity is the main reason why most writers are usually not encouraged to write longer short stories.
To help you out, we’re also sharing this useful chart to show which word count applies to which story type:
|Story Type||Word Count|
|Short Story||100 to 15,000 words|
|Novella||30,000 to 60,000 words|
|Novel||60,000 to 100,000 words|
|Epic Novel||120,000 to 220,000+ words|
As you can see, the story type changes greatly as the word count is increased. So, if you’re looking to write a short story, stick with 15,000 words as the maximum limit for your work.
2. What are the Publishing Requirements for a Short Story?
This can be confusing in that most people aren’t even aware of the average length of a short story. So, what is the average length here? To be honest, the answer to this can also vary.
When writing to publish your work in a magazine, you’ll have to adhere to an average of 3,000 to 5,000 words. However, there are some publishers who also accept a long short story that can be around 5,000 to 15,000 words.
For more clarity in this regard, you should look at the guidelines for submissions of different magazines. This makes it easier to write as once you know what is the average length of a short story; all you have to do is build around that number.
3. Do Short Stories Have Chapters?
Not all short stories have chapters but they can have them. A long short story that has 15,000 words can have chapters but they are used minimally and will not be as lengthy or as many as there are in novellas or novels.
A good example of a short story that has chapters can be seen in A Scandal in Bohemia from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The short story spans three chapters and each one has a neat, number divider for each chapter. It makes the reading easier, sets the scene for each part of the short story and also makes it easier to transition from one part of the story to another.
If you’re writing a short story that is averaging 3,000 to 5,000 words, you can add transitional sections instead of chapters. These are popularly used to show the end of a scene or a setting and can be just as useful in denoting chapter sequences in a short story.
4. What is the Standard Structure of a Short Story?
All short stories have a standard structure which defines how the plot line and the story will unfold. These elements also add to the reading experience and make the reader more invested in the story. The following is what a standard structure looks like for a short story:
- Exposition — Introduction to the setting of the story, the major conflict as well as the protagonist of the story.
- The Major Problem — The efforts of the protagonist are shown as they try to understand the problem that is happening.
- Plot Twist — This is going to be the major twist where the protagonist is thrown into a battle of wits or an actual battle too.
- The Calm — This is when the protagonist is led to believe that they have achieved their goal and with the results they want.
- Resolution of the Issue — Now, our protagonist is shown as being normal or are they?
This isn’t the only outline to follow and you can change it up as needed. The core focus is to write a story that engages your readers with the help of a storyline.
5. How Many Pages Does a Short Story Have?
Some writers like to write according to a page count. This also comes down to how much time the story takes to read from start to finish.
So how long does a short story have to be? In the words of Edgar Allan Poe, “A short story is a dramatic narrative intended to be read in a single sitting and designed to produce a single effect.”
This quote is also the main definition that many short stories adhere to. You’ll see that many old short stories and modern ones too, mimic this factor. So, when you’re considering just how long can a short story be, you also have to figure out how long it has to be for the reader.
We’re going to share this useful chart with you that will shed more light on how long does a short story have to be, based on its page count:
|Story Type||Pages – In a Book|
|Short Story||1 to 24 pages|
|Novella||100 to 200 pages|
|Novel||200 to 350 pages|
|Epic Novel||400 to 750+ pages|
It’s easy to see that even for the slowest reader, finishing 24 pages will take a few hours. By keeping the word count smaller, you’re able to create a story that can be 5 to 10 pages long and can be read in a single sitting.
6. How Long Does It Take To Write A Short Story?
A lot of times, new writers, in particular, assume that they will be done with a short story in a day or two. That’s not always the case at all. Writing a short story can be a bit more complex. Only the most seasoned writers end up getting their work done in a day.
Even then, they’re more than likely to take another day or two to tweak the finished results, until they are happy with it. In this case, since you’re just focusing on how long it will take to write one, it’s easy to assume that you will be unpleasantly surprised by how time-consuming the process is.
Instead of focusing on this, you should take your time to relax and write. Make sure to spend at least two to three hours a day, just working on the story. There’s no pressure to submit the story unless you aren’t happy with it. Just make sure that you’re not bound by any real deadlines for magazine publishing.
To also speed up your output, you should challenge yourself to write a long short story every day. Whether it’s 1,000 words or 5,000; just sit down and write. Remember, the more you practice, the better you will get at it.
7. How to Write the Title of a Short Story?
Writing the title of any story, regardless of whether or not it is a short story, can be difficult. Additionally, there’s no rule that you have to stick to the title you’ve picked out in the start. Many writers often make changes to the title in order to make it more relevant to the story.
To make the process easier, you should try to figure out the title by answering these questions first:
- What is the dominant theme in the story?
- What is the unique thing about the story?
- How can you make the title intriguing but not give away the story?
Once you have the answers, you’ll find that the title will be easier to write. You can also see that many writers also use these three questions for their titles.
Titles such as Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood or August Heat by W.F. Harvey are enticing enough to draw the reader in. They also play a minor role in dictating the direction of the events. This also makes them tie in well with the story. Plus, they’re intriguing enough to keep the reader’s interest.
8. What Genres Does a Short Story Have?
When it comes to picking the genres for your work, you’ll be happy to know that you can write short stories in almost any genre you want. Short stories tend to be largely based on fiction. You’re not going to find many non-fiction short stories unless you’re reading personal accounts of authors.
Even these have a fictitious element to them so as to make it more appealing for the reader. Mark Twain’s funny short story Hunting the Deceitful Turkey is a funny, non-fiction story. When reading it, you’ll note that Mark Twain cuts out the monotony of the text by writing it in a whimsical manner.
Non-fiction short stories are also generally shorter. So, if you’re still taking notes for how long can a short story be, remember that non-fiction is usually shorter whereas fiction can be stretched out to the maximum word count without any issues.
9. What Voice Can a Short Story Have?
Much like other forms of writing, your short story can have a voice or a point of narration in accordance with the reading experience. Here, you can pick from the main three different points, namely the first, second or the third person as highlighted here:
- First Person – The story uses “I” as a pronoun and told from your point of view.
- Second Person – The story uses “you” as a pronoun and turns the reader into a participant of the story.
- Third Person – The story uses “he, she” and “it” as a pronoun and is told from an outsider’s perspective.
Most short stories are usually based on the third person narrative but they can also be based on the second or first person as well. Just remember that each writing voice or perspective brings different challenges with it too.
10. How Do You Capture the Reader’s Attention in a Short Story?
One of the major challenges, when you’re considering how long can a short story be, is whether or not you will be able to capture the reader’s attention. What you want to do is have them hooked from the first paragraph so that they read the whole story, regardless of the length.
For this reason, you have to write an opening sentence that entices the reader and follow it up with a paragraph that completely captures their attention. A good example of this can be seen in the starting paragraph for The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.
The sentence of the story starts as “One dollar and eighty-seven cents.” It’s a very intriguing sentence that is followed by a paragraph that explains that the next day would be Christmas and there’s not enough money to buy a present.
It captures your attention because we have all been in this situation, where we wanted to buy our loved one’s presents but did not have enough funds.
11. How Many Characters Does a Short Story Have?
The characters in a short story cannot be as many as you can see in novellas and novels. As a rule of thumb, short stories usually have a maximum allowance for five characters. This is because as previously mentioned, short stories are meant to be read in one sitting.
If you have too many characters, your reader will be unable to follow the storyline. It also makes more room for plot holes to appear. Try to use minimal characters or rely on the use of a second person narrative to accommodate for this factor.
With short stories, you also have the opportunity to make the characters richer and more vibrant. Consider the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Despite being part of short stories, readers were instantly drawn in by their friendship, teamwork and their oddities.
You can also build likable characters in your short stories in this manner too.
12. How Do You Make an Outline for a Short Story?
Making an outline for a short story can help to cut down much of the confusion relating to the length of the short story. With the help of an outline, you’ll be more aware of how to tell your story. It also ensures that you don’t miss out on any major plot points when you are writing.
You’ll be happy to know that your outline will be much easier for a short story as compared to a longer one. Apart from distributing the content and storyline, your outline also makes it possible to check on the following:
- Story’s point of view or perspective – Second person or third person?
- The starting of the story – Which elements will you use here?
- How will you get to the main issue at hand?
- Where will the major drama and twist occur?
- How will the issue be resolved?
- How do you want the reader to feel?
These allow you to have an outline that gets your readers hooked and become completely involved in the story.
13. How Do You Edit a Short Story?
Always make sure to edit your short story before you even think about submitting it. Editing is the main area where you get to correct mistakes, fix any issues in the spelling and grammar and also work out just how long can a short story be.
However, that’s not the only area that you should check. Editing your short story should also include the following areas:
- Consistency in point of view – Ambiguity here can make the story confusing.
- Consistency in the usage of tenses – Improper usage here can confuse the readers.
- Consistency in dialogue and the use of characters – Avoid plot holes or missing details.
- Usage of poor vocabulary – It can be very tedious to read work with limited vocabulary.
- Not being descriptive enough – Short stories need to be descriptive.
- Imagery or setting of the story – Make sure you’ve set the scene properly for your story to unfold.
With the help of these tips, you can not only work out how long can a short story be but also ensure that you’re successfully able to tackle other problems too.