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A Few Things on Writing a Short Story

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

A few years ago, while going through a long list of writing terminology, Innovative Editing covered these three forms of fiction:

  • Novel

  • Novella

  • Short story.

For this year though, we’re booting out “novella” since it really is just a short novel. There's very little to say about it that you wouldn't say about a novel.

As such, in its place, we added in flash fiction, a fascinating endeavor we covered earlier in the month.

(You can get the insider’s scoop on everything that entails by clicking here.)

There’s no such need to set aside the subject of short stories though. Not when there’s definitely still a place for them in today’s publishing world.

Prepare to hear more about those opportunities on Friday after we’re done discussing what a short story is… and why it’s worth a try for even the wordiest of novel writers.

Writers or not, most people do know what a short story is. There’s even a decent chance they tried it out themselves back in grade school when Ms. Zolaski gave all her fifth graders the chance to enter into a creative writing contest.

Even so, the fifth-grade rules about short story length might be a little bit different than the official big-kid rules. So let’s discuss it below:

Short Story
Creative writing comes in all shapes and sizes. So there is a definite and even well-established place for people who really want to write stories but can’t imagine writing 70,000 words or more.
Since short stories are fictional tales that can be read in a single sitting, they’re most often somewhere between 1,000 and 5,000 words long. Though some sources do allow up to 20,000. If we’re talking single-spaced and Times New Roman font on a standard sheet of paper, that’s going to be between two pages and 33.

With that said, 33 pages is a lot to read in one sitting. So while many industry experts will recognize that a 20,000-word work of fiction can, indeed, be a short story… most are going to call for something far less than 10,000.

I guess they’re just more practical that way.

In the past, writing a short story was most often an intentional act of philosophical exploration. Or, phrased with a little less academic snobbery, short stories were used to raise deep questions.

For instance, John Updike’s famous A&P can be interpreted as addressing a whole variety of issues.

  • What’s the meaning of life?

  • What battles are worth standing our ground on?

  • What is acceptable and unacceptable public attire, not to mention behavior?

Fairly serious stuff, right? (Even if it is wrapped inside an abjectly boring presentation, in my humble opinion.)

These days though, short stories can just as easily be written for nothing more than good old-fashioned entertainment. Or a simple expression of creative energy.

There are short stories about old blue jeans and mental maturations, kitty cats, solved mysteries and love connections.

Just like with novels, the sky’s the limit, both in terms of subject matter and intended impact.

Which makes writing a short story a brief but otherwise open-ended adventure well worth the stroll.

Editor’s Note: Read the next post on writing short stories here.

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