The first question I usually get asked about writing short stories is how long they’re supposed to be. Here, in one handy spot, is everything you ever wanted to know about word counts, though in some cases the answers lead to more questions.
Flash fiction (a.k.a. microfiction) is 1,000 words or fewer. Flash fiction of exactly 100 words is called a “drabble.”
Anything from 1,000 words to 15,000 can be a short story, though the closer you get into the tens of thousands of words, you’re veering into novella territory.
Novellas are usually thought of as 15,000 to 50,000. The seldom-used term “novelette” can be given to anything on the shorter end of that, but the distinction is arbitrary and, in my opinion, sounds belittling. There’s something elegant and romantic about the word “novella” that, to my ear, “novelette” does not have. (It doesn’t help that Smurfette has rendered the –ette suffix demeaning, fake, sexist, and juvenile.)
Novels, then, are 50,000 words and up, and epublishing has made further preferences a bit fuzzy. Time was 60K was the sweet spot for literary fiction and 80K for genre fiction (those fantasy fans like their epics, went the thinking).
My novella We Shadows Have Offended clocks in at 16,715 words, which I suppose puts it in the maligned “novelette” column, and my forthcoming novel The Red Eye is in the 55,000 word range. While these are both on the shorter end, I’ve also been working on an urban fantasy novel for about three years now that not only isn’t done yet but is already over 90,000 words, so it’s not as if I’m incapable of long stuff; that’s just how these two pieces worked out. The Red Eye‘s first draft was originally written for NaNoWriMo, but another of my NaNo novels is 65K. It’s really just what feels organic for the story.
Duotrope, the publishing market search engine extraordinaire, defines flash the same way I have, short story as 1,000-7,500 words, novelette as 7,500-15,000, novella as 15K to 40K, and novel as 40K and above. I strongly disagree with their start of novel-length at 40,000, but again, epublishing has changed the game a bit. I suppose if I read a 40K-word ebook I would feel it was meatier than the average novella, but I still might find it on the short side.