Some of the most famous authors started out writing short stories before they published longer novellas or novels.
Edgar Allan Poe once said that the right length of a short story should be “readable in a single sitting”. But how many words should a short story have?
There are no hard and fast rules about the word count of a short story but commonly short stories have between 5,000 and 10,000 words.
Some short stories are longer, while others are shorter. Often magazines and other publications ask for shorter stories ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 words.
In this article, we find out how many words should be in a short story and how long these shorter stories should be.
We also put together some great short story examples from famous authors, so you can decide how long your short story should be.
How Many Words Should A Short Story Have?
A short story is defined as any work of fiction that has a word count between 5,000 and 10,000 words.
However, these limits are not set. Some short stories exceed 10,000 words, and others also go below 5,000 words.
The exact word count for short stories often depends on the writer and the publication where the piece is published.
Many magazines set clear word limits where a short story writer is only allowed to submit short stories of a certain length.
As a rule of thumb, a short story is between 5,000 and 10,000 words long, while a novella is between 10,000 and 40,000 words long.
In comparison, a novel usually has a minimum of 50,000 words. On the other extreme, pieces that are shorter than 3,000 words are called flash fiction.
This allows for some variation in the length of different genres and types of stories, manuscripts and articles.
Why Does The Word Count Of A Short Story Matter?
With most short stories, you will rarely hear any criticism when it comes to the length of the story as it’s usually not impacting the quality of a good plot.
The term “short story” depends on how you interpret “short”. If you are writing a short story just for fun without publishing it, then you can write almost as much as you like.
Just bear in mind that once you put your story in front of an audience, they will try to put your writing into a category.
This means that if you try to sell your 50,000 word story as a short story, then your readers may tell you that this is much too long for a quick read.
When it comes to word count for a short story, then this usually only matters when you consider different publishing options.
As an example, magazines often set strict word count limits for short stories to ensure that there is enough room in the printed magazine.
There is limited space in each issue, so often print publications will go for a slightly lower word count for short stories, between 3,000 and 7,500 words.
In comparison, novels and novellas are usually not published in magazines. They are published as small books.
But they are also under strict scrutiny when it comes to word count because you can only fit a certain number of words on each page, and each page costs a certain amount of money in editing, design and print.
That’s the reason why publishers often do not print novellas and short stories as individual books, as they are just too small to make the print worthwhile.
On the other hand, publishers also don’t look at novels with an excessive word count because they hugely increase the production cost of the book.
Saying this, if you are an established writer with an existing audience, then publishers are often more lenient.
If you are looking at self-publishing options or indie publishing, then word count for short stories, novellas and novels don’t matter so much.
This is because ebooks are easy to produce and the number of pages doesn’t affect the costs.
In addition, you don’t have to label your story as a short story or novella if you only choose to publish your book online without printing it.
As readers can’t see the thickness of the spine of your book, they wouldn’t know the difference between a short story or a novel.
However, it’s always a good idea to give your readership an indication of how long your story is, for example, by including the number of pages or the word count in the description off your book.
Famous Examples Of Short Stories
There are some great examples of popular short stories throughout history that are officially classed as short stories, and not all of them match the official word count.
- “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson (3,000 words)
- “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway (1,500 words)
- “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl (4,000 words)
- “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston (4,700 words)
- “Woman Hollering Creek” by Sandra Cisneros (4,500 words)
- “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (6,000 words)
- “The Swimmer” by John Cheever (5,000 words)
- “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates (7,000 words)
- “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado (8,000 words)
How To Write A Great Short Story
When it comes to writing a short story, it’s not all about word count and the length of your story.
You will also need to consider structure, the title of your story and a great ending. Here are our top tips on how to write a successful short story.
Read Plenty Of Short Stories
Before you start writing, it’s a good idea to read as many short stories as you possibly can.
This will give you a better understanding of how a short story is structured, how characters are developed and what techniques you can use to make your story engaging.
When reading other short stories, you might even find inspiration for your own writing.
Create A Memorable Title
There is a true art in finding the right story title. It has to be short enough but equally descriptive and punchy.
The title is what your readers will see first when they look at your story, so make sure that it draws attention.
Work With The Classic Story Structure
Whether you are just starting out with short story writing or you are a pro, the classic story structure always works.
This usually involves creating a dilemma for your character, and then sending your character on a journey to resolve his or her problem.
The structure of your story is essential, so it’s worthwhile spending some time planning and thinking about it.
Come Up With A Good Ending
You want the ending of your story to just as memorable as your story title. Readers should want to read more of your story.
There are a few different ways to end a story, from open endings to the death of your main character.
While a short story is typically between 5,000 and 10,000 words, there are plenty of variations in length, depending on how and where you want to publish your work.