A short story is a piece of prose fiction that usually tells the story of one main character during one key moment in their life. They can be fun to read and write, and many famous authors are known for their short stories.
But if you want to create your own, do you know how long a short story should be? A short story can be between 500 and 10,000 words, but that’s a wide range and it can be more difficult to know exactly how long your own should be. In this blog, we’ll explain how you can decide on the length of your own short story.
How long should a short story be?
If you want to write a short story of your own and you’re wondering how long it should be, there are a few factors to consider:
- Are you submitting to a publication?
- Is your short story homework or part of a course?
- Who’s your intended audience?
- What genre are you writing in?
The ideal length of your short story will depend on your answer to each of these questions.
Submitting to a publication
The primary reason for deciding how long a short story should be is whether you plan on submitting it to be published. There might be a literary journal or a creative writing website that accepts submissions, but almost all of these will have a word limit that you must adhere to.
Some even give a recommended range, such as 3000-5000 words, so there’s a minimum length you have to meet as well.
Even if you don’t have a specific publication you want to submit to, if you want to get your story published you should research a few places that you could submit to at a later date. That way you’ll get an idea of what the average word limits are so that you know roughly how many words to aim for with your first draft.
Homework or college class
As with submitting to publications, if you’re writing a short story because you need to for homework in school or as part of a creative writing class, you’ll also likely have a strict word limit to keep within.
If you’re not sure what the limit is, then ask your teacher. They’ll give you an idea of what their expectations are.
Even if you don’t have a strict word limit to work within, there are other factors to take into consideration when deciding on the length of your short story. The target audience or readership is the biggest influence.
For example, if you are writing a children’s story, then a shorter length is perfectly fine, even just one to two thousand words. For children, seven or eight thousand words might be too long to hold their attention, but it will work well for a more mature readership.
The genre of your short story can also influence the word count. It doesn’t have to strictly define how long the narrative is, but by studying a few examples within your genre you can get an idea of how the plots are often structured and what the typical lengths are.
For more help with how to write short stories within specific genres, you can read our following guides:
- How to write a short fantasy story
- How to write a short horror story
- How to write a short mystery story
- How to write a short science fiction story
- How to write a short romance story
How many words is a short story?
A short story is usually a minimum of 500 words long and a maximum of 10,000 words. Stories shorter than this are more likely considered flash fiction, whereas longer would be more appropriate for a novella.
However, either end of that range is quite extreme; you won’t find many short stories that are as little as 500 words or as long as 10,000. Typically, the average would be 3,000-5000, with 7,500 being good amount to limit yourself if you don’t want to get carried away.
Knowing how to write a short story can be difficult because of the restraint on how long it can be. But that limitation can actually help you keep the story focused.
How long is a short story in pages?
While you now know how many words your short story should be, what about the number of pages. A short story could be anywhere between 3 and 30 pages, although this can depend on formatting. Font size, paragraph spacing, margins, and even use of tables and images all influence the amount of pages needed for your story.
If you’re aiming to have your story published in a physical journal or magazine, then the pages will really matter to the editor. They’re unlikely to dedicate a big chunk of their publication to just one story!
Do short stories have chapters?
Apart from some rather occasions, short stories don’t have chapters. However, there can still be paragraphs and different sections to break up the narrative and provide transitions between different scenes or time settings.
Chapters aren’t used in short stories because it’s usual for someone to read the story in one sitting. Novellas and novels are divided into chapters partly because it gives the reader moments to pause and take a break, but that’s only needed due to their longer length.
Examples of short stories and their length
To get a better sense of how long a short story should be, or what length you want to aim for with yours, here are the word counts of a few famous short stories:
- ‘The Garden Party’ by Katherine Mansfield (5555 words)
- ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson (3775 words)
- ‘To Build a Fire’ by Jack London (7175 words)
- ‘The Gift of the Magi’ by O. Henry (2163 words)
- ‘Hills Like White Elepants’ by Ernest Hemingway (1,500 words)
How to keep your story short
While it’s all well and good knowing how long your short story should be, it can be difficult to keep within the limits of a strict word count. Here are a few tips on keeping your short story short:
- Reduce the scope of your story. It could only depict one weekend, day, or even hour in your character’s life. You’ll be hardpressed to write someone’s life story in only a few thousand words.
- Have a small cast of characters. There’s no room to introduce and develop dozens of characters, so only use a handful. Even just two, three, or four can be enough to tell a compelling story. In some stories, having the main character completely by themselves can also work.
- Keep your story focused. When you redraft your short story, cut out any unnecessary scenes. Anything that isn’t crucial to moving the plot forward can be removed.
For more help with how to write a short story and improve your skills with short fiction, read this guide.
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