How Many Words In A Short Story or Novella?

Ever wondered how many words make up a short story or novella? It’s a common question among writers and readers alike. Are you curious about the word count that defines these literary forms?

When it comes to writing, word count can play a crucial role in determining the length and impact of a story. Whether you’re a budding writer or simply curious about the differences between a short story and a novella, understanding the word count requirements is essential. So, just how many words should you aim for when crafting these literary forms?

In this article, we’ll dive into the word count guidelines for short stories and novellas to help you understand how best to approach them.

Why Is Word Count Important in Writing?

Word count is crucial because readers don’t want to read stories that are too rushed or too slowly paced. Word count norms are the standards for a reason. However, the main reason word count is important is when you’re trying to get published.

Literary magazines have strict word count limits that submissions must adhere to.

While there are no hard and fast rules on the amount of words a book needs, there are highly-suggested guidelines in the traditional publishing industry, especially for first-time authors. Let’s face it, we can’t all be J.K. Rowling right out of the gate with a bestseller as our first book. Unless you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to pay attention to how many words you use to compose your first draft. Here are three reasons why word count is important:

  1. 1. Shorter novels are more marketable. A literary agent and traditional publisher are less likely to take a chance on long novels when they come from a new writer. An adult fiction book is most marketable in the suggested word count.
  2. 2. Longer novels are more expensive to print. Longer books increase the number of pages that need to be printed. That makes them more expensive to print and a bigger investment.
  3. 3. Audiences expect a certain word count. Audiences are used to a certain story length and page count, so an unknown author can attract more readers by staying in the expected range.

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What Is A Short Story?

Wikipedia defines a short story as a piece of prose fiction that can typically be read in a single sitting and focuses on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents, with the intent of evoking a single effect or mood.

A short story is a work of prose fiction that can be read in one sitting—usually between 20 minutes to an hour. This type of writing measures between 1,000 to 7,500 words, with some outliers reaching 10,000

Features Of A Short Story?

Here’s a list of key elements that make up a short story:

1. Simple setting

Short stories are typically limited to a single setting. Characters do not move from place to place but rather stay put for the entirety of the story.

2. Minimal characters

Short stories usually contain one or two main characters, neither of whom has a rich backstory. Although not flat, the reader never learns much about these characters other than what is considered relevant to the moment at hand. This entails that every word and detail has to count.

3. Single plot

Short stories adopt the single plot method, they do not have time to meander or introduce subplots. They stay focused on one plotline and expand it till the end.

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4. Ambiguous endings

Short stories are moments in time. They are a fragment of a greater narrative. Because of this, it is usual for them to conclude with a question mark, leaving the reader wondering what will come next. Readers are left pondering about short stories with unresolved ends long after they have finished reading them.

How Many Words Should Be In A Short Story?

A short story is usually less than 10,000 words. This word-count ceiling is somewhat fuzzy, however, with many major writing competitions and magazines requesting submissions of no more than 7,500 words.

In addition, there are types of short stories with even more restrictive word counts. For example, works under 1,500 words are commonly considered flash fiction.

Examples of short stories

  • “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry
  • “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
  • “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury
  • “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes
  • “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl

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What Is A Novella?

A novella is a particular type of written fiction that, in terms of length and complexity, falls between a short story and a full-length novel. Typically, it has a single plotline and character.

A novella cannot be split into chapters, however, there might be subsections. For instance, Wendy Erskine’s previously mentioned To All Their Dues is split into three sections, each including a trio of main characters. Because of this, it resembles a novelette more.

Novellas often have a linear plot with the protagonist’s development serving as the focal point of action. Rather than being a sequence of events, this could be an internal struggle that is either resolved or just explored. The novel’s length precludes the possibility of multiple subplots or places, even though some of its parts might be somewhat complicated.

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What Are The Characteristics Of A Novella?

One of the main features of a novella is that it provides more room for character development and plot progression than a short story, yet maintains a tighter, more focused narrative than a novel. Here are other characteristics you need to know:

1. Single conflict

Novellas tell the story in full but often involve less conflict than would be found in a full novel. Instead, they focus on one central plotline. To maintain the straightforward momentum of the story, novellas rarely include subplots or many points of view.

2. Heavy focus on one character

While novellas may include secondary characters, the main aim of a novella will always be on the protagonist. Novellas do not dwell on the character development of side characters or dig into the backstories of any characters other than the main character. As a result, the protagonist ends up feeling elevated while all other characters fall into the background.

3. Fast-paced

Novellas don’t have the time to meander and take a million different turns, whereas novels can. Because of its exclusive concentration on a single issue, novellas frequently have fast-paced stories with lots of action. The novella as a whole feels more urgent because of the subplots’ omission.

3. Plot twists

Novellas must capture the reader’s interest in some manner even though they lack the space to go into great detail about a character’s past or to genuinely create likable characters. Novellas typically do this by including plot twists that are meant to keep the reader wondering right up until the very conclusion. The reader is kept turning the pages till they reach the conclusion by these powerful moments.

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How Long Is A Novella? 

The word count for a novella ranges from 10,000 to 40,000 words. It may contain between 100-200 pages. The usual length is over 17,500 words which enables more depth of character and plot development. Novellas are often published as part of a short story collection as a novella is difficult to publish except perhaps in terms of an e-book due to financial considerations explained previously. 

Examples of Novella

  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – 38,000 words.
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – 25,497 words.
  • A political satire, Animal Farm by George Orwell – 29,966 words. 
  • Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King – 38,000 words.

What Is A Novelette?

A novelette is any short, fictional work of prose narrative. They have a lower number of words than a novel or novella, but a higher word count than other types of prose fiction like short stories or microfiction. Despite lacking the page count of a full-length novel, novelettes tell a complete story.

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Characteristics Of A Novelette

Here are the three main characteristics of a novelette:

1. Sentimental themes

Novelettes tend to focus on character development and world-building, with a focus on playful or sentimental themes. It is not uncommon for novelettes to have an element of romance.

2. Few characters

Rather than having many characters, novelettes tend to focus on a single character and offer richer character development of the main character.

3. One main plotline

Novelettes usually don’t have side stories. Instead, their minimal word count requires a strict focus on the main plotline to tell the full tale.

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How Long Is A Novelette? 

A novelette is longer than a short story but shorter than a novella. With a word count of around 7,500-18,000 words, the novelette borders both the top end of a short story and the length usually acceptable for a novella. As with the short story and the novella, writers may be constricted in terms of the number of characters they can use and the amount of plot development they can include.  

The plot will probably be linear and uncomplicated with few, or no, sub-plots. There won’t be an ensemble of hundreds of characters—just one or two. It will be a fully realized story with a clear emphasis. Though the writing must still be succinct, novelettes allow authors to add more detail to the outline of their short stories.

Examples Of Novelette 

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka – 11,500 words 
  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery – 16,500 words  
  • Death in Venice by Thomas Mann – 14,000 words 
  • The Spectacles by Edgar Allan Poe – 9,200 words
  • The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson – 13,500 words

FAQs On How Many Words In A Short Story or Novella

Why is word count important in writing?

Word count is crucial because readers don’t want to read stories that are too rushed or too slowly paced. Word count norms are one of the set guidelines for publishing.

What is a novella?

A novella is a particular type of written fiction that, in terms of length and complexity, falls between a short story and a full-length novel.

How many words are in a novellete?

A novelette is longer than a short story but shorter than a novella. It usually has a word count of around 7,500-18,000 words.


When it comes to writing a short story or novella, word count plays a significant role in defining the genre and determining the story’s length and depth. Whether you are a writer looking to create a compelling narrative or a reader interested in the nuances of storytelling, knowing the word count guidelines for these forms can enhance your appreciation for literary works. 


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