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Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2008-02-21 18:40
Subject: [process] How long is a short story, anyway
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Location:Hilton Columbia Center, Columbia, SC
Mood:busy
Music:hotel noises
Tags:family, process, writing
My brother asked me in an email today about story lengths. I told him that in speculative fiction, 4,000 words is the "sweet spot" for short fiction, and anything much above 20,000 words is virtually unsellable.

I also sent him this handy reference table:

Flash<500 words

Short-short<1000 words

Short<7,500 words

Novelette<17,500 words

Novella<40,000 words

Short novel<80,000 words

Novel<200,000 words

Doorstop<400,000 words

Wall-eyed insanity>400,000 words


Feel free to offer corrections or comments. Y'all are usually so shy about that sort of thing.
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-02-22 02:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And... roughly how many words to a page?
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User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2008-02-22 02:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
or, you know, should I get out a book and count?
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User: n5red
Date: 2008-02-22 02:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
So, you are calling Peter F. Hamilton's works "Wall-eyed insanity"?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-22 02:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, I was thinking of Neal Stephenson when I wrote that. On the other hand, given my taste for 200,000 word first drafts, I may be venturing into that world myself in the none too distant future.

It's still insane. Who wants to read a 400,000 word book?
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Kevin Standlee: Hugo Trophy
User: kevin_standlee
Date: 2008-02-22 02:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Hugo Trophy
In those discussions which tend to break out around me (big surprise) about the mechanics of the Hugo Awards, we sometimes talk about how you could add another written fiction category for super-sized work, as a 40K novel is so old-fashioned. But what to name the >100K-word category? As I recall, it was kalimac who suggested, by the rule of Hugo Inverse Category Name Length (the longer the work, the shorter the name), that "Best Tome" is a good choice.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-22 03:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Speaking as a writer, there's very distinct and profound differences between short novels (roughly as defined above), novels, and long novels (roughly as defined above). I'm not sure how much impact that could or should have on award categories, though.
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User: swan_tower
Date: 2008-02-22 03:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:*writing
The version of Henry Kuttner's "Home Is the Hunter" that I copied for my students this semester had a Robert Silverberg commentary at the end that discussed this. His take is that <1.5K is filler; 3-4K is the bare minimum for a real short story; and 5-7.5K is the real meat of the genre. But he wrote that in '87; it would be interesting to see if, as he suggests, that's still the length into which most magazine fare falls.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-22 03:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I once wrote a 387 word short piece with a complete story structure. That's freaking hard.
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Todd Thorne
User: dark_opus
Date: 2008-02-22 04:05 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Depending on the author in question, doesn't "Doorstop" also equate to "Novel Series" a.k.a. "Shelf Space Grab" or just plain "Milk It, Baby"?
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-22 04:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, I was sort of thinking of single title volumes, like the original British publication of Mary Gentle's Ash. (Which I read as three books in its US pub, and enjoyed immensely.)
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Keith R.A. DeCandido: writing
User: kradical
Date: 2008-02-22 04:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:writing
Uhm -- I have a serious issue with relegating anything under 80,000 words to "short novel" status. In fact, I think I'm insulted by it, since most of my 35 novels are under 80K, and I resent them being lumped into the "short novel" category as if they're somehow not really worthy of being novels because I happen to have a writing style that lends itself to novels between 60 and 75K.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-22 04:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Dude, that wasn't a diss. Rocket Science is 65,000 words. Death of a Starship is 49,000 words. I'm all about the short novel, as both a reader and a writer.

I'm just being descriptive. My qualitative experience of writing at that length is very different from my qualitative experience writing at 100,000-120,000, and again from the +/- 200,000 I've been messing with lately.
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ellen datlow
User: ellen_datlow
Date: 2008-02-22 05:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I consider 5-6000 words the perfect length of short fiction (from an editorial pov).
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Grant Kruger
User: thirdworld
Date: 2008-02-22 05:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Useful list, and pretty close to my understanding... and I managed to resist naming certain authors by name for the back-breaker category.
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dinogrl: Simpsons freaks
User: dinogrl
Date: 2008-02-22 05:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Simpsons freaks
Well, considering most of my writing is for a different audience, I'll use your terms and say I am a flash in my short-shorts.

(wink-wink, nudge-nudge)
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justinbarba
User: justinbarba
Date: 2008-02-22 18:14 (UTC)
Subject: Story Lengths
I think your length breakdowns are accurate--useful too.

As far as the "short novel" thing, you can certainly mean it negatively. Or not. In your list, Jay, you obviously didn't, but it could go either way. I mean, we do the same with short or small anything, don't we? My 5'3" brother gets knocked pretty hard for being short, although most people would agree that it doesn't make him less . . . I think I'd say the same thing about a short novel. Shorter can be better. Or way worse.

As far as competition goes, it seems like a logical/useful category breakdown between longer stories and shorter ones.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2008-02-22 19:48 (UTC)
Subject: How long
How did you come up with those numbers?
They are okay, but what standard did you use?
thanks

Terry Finley

http://terryrfinley.blogspot.com/
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2008-02-22 20:12 (UTC)
Subject: Re: How long
Roughly, the Hugo and Nebula standards (which are themselves slightly different) for short stories, novelette and novella. Flash and short-short don't have an official definition, but those divisions are fairly commonly accepted. Novels generally aren't divided, (except into "short novel" and "novel" by a few publishers) — basically I made those up.
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