What's even more confusing is that there doesn't seem to be a universal numerical standard length for each form, instead publishers and those who run competitions seem to be able to draw the line where they want. This is especially true of short pieces. The more I read the more ambiguous the limits seemed (though most did fall within a general window). For example, one article explained that short stories, for instance, are less than 7,500 wds, though others suggest less than 7,000-9,000, however, contemporary usage is generally no longer than 20,000 wds and no shorter than 1,000. Not confusing at all, is it?
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of American Nedula helpfully give the following word counts for the larger forms of writing. These seem to be generally held.
- Novels 40,000 +
- Novella 17,500 - 40,000
- Novelette 7,500 - 17,500
- Short story - 7,500
When it comes to short stories it's quite a different matter. Short stories under 1,000 words can go by the names of "short short" fiction, "sudden" fiction or "flash" fiction. Various forms of flash fiction also go by the names "postcard," "micro-fiction," "micro-story" and "postcard" fiction. Two forms I'd never heard of before were "drabble," a piece of 100 wds (though apparently the term can be used for pieces of up to 1,000) and "vignettes," which are so short the story is implied rather than told.
For my own sanity, I've tried to compose a coherent list of forms and limits, gleaned from Wikipedia, that don't clash.
- Traditional short 2,501 - 7,000
- Short 1,001 - 2,501
- Sudden/Flash fiction 750 - 1,000
- Micro-fiction 10 - 300
I think I've earned some chocolate and a coffee, don't you?