1. Demented_Thoughts
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    Demented_Thoughts Member

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    Short Stories...How Short Is To Short?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Demented_Thoughts, May 9, 2011.

    I've been writing short stories for about a year now and i've been having problems with the proper length to make them. I read a lot of short story novels mostly King though and i find his shorts are rather long. 10+ pages and it makes me question how short a short story actually has to be.

    My stories are usually 1500-2500 words max. that's generally 2-3 pages. So my questions are how short does a short have to be? Or is there no real rules on this? How many words usually make up a short story?
     
  2. Liza
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    Liza Active Member

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    Really, I don't think there are any real rules. It really just depends on the point you're trying to get across, and how long you take to fit everything in. And it also depends on the writer, how long they usually make things go on. There aren't really any rules, I don't think. That's just my opinion.
     
  3. AvihooI
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    AvihooI Member

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    I am guessing a short story should be short enough to read in a one sitting.
    That is to say, if you run out of energy to read it in one go (such is the case for novels), then it cannot be considered a short story.

    Of course, that is my interpretation of what a short story is and should be. Cleary there are the gifted ones who can read hundreds of pages with no halt. Do take it as an interesting take.
     
  4. Demented_Thoughts
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    Demented_Thoughts Member

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    Yeah i do belive that shorts should be short enough to read in one sitting but then there are the times when i want to write a 5 page short but get put off because i feel it's going to be to long and if i wanted something long i would go in the novel direction
     
  5. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    My creative writing teacher would fail everyone in the class who wrote a short story longer than 3000 words. But I don't think there's any actual rules. I guess it's more about what the specific publishers need.
     
  6. Cthulhu
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    Cthulhu Member

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    Acording to Duotrope a story of 1000 words or less is flash fiction.

     
  7. Demented_Thoughts
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    Demented_Thoughts Member

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    That's the 1st time i ever heard of flash fiction... but thanks for that helps :) now i can write them longer :) (hopefully)
     
  8. AvihooI
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    The point of short stories is to convey a message and entertain without the reader feeling he or she has to invest an awful lot of time to grasp it. A short story clearly doesn't and shouldn't have the suspense, detail and depth novels have. I don't think there are plots you couldn't address with less than 3000 words.

    If you are writing a story that isn't a short-story or a novel, then you're writing a medium sized story. One that takes perhaps a couple of hours to read with two or three stops.

    Either way, let others read what you write - if you often get the response "I guess I'll have to read it when I have the time", you were doing something wrong. Alternatively, you weren't writing a short story.
     
  9. Demented_Thoughts
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    Demented_Thoughts Member

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    Yes i do get that alot i was wondering why people request me to post my stories but then i always get the "I'll read this when i have time". But usually they are the shorts that's around 2500 word max
     
  10. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    A short story can be as short as a few sentences, if you're skilled.

    The shortest short story, so far as I know, was one written by someone (whose name - of the story and the author - I forgot) that was basically two sentences (no joke - you can look it up) and goes something like this:

    "The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door."


    Apparently someone made a version which was one letter shorter:

    "The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a lock on the door."


    Whether you like it or not, it does show (at least to some people) that a short story can be just a few mere sentences if written carefully. In fact, if you think about it, a lot of Aesop's fables weren't really that long - some I think were maybe a paragraph only - and yet you can't deny that they're short stories, more or less.
     
  11. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Eh, the point of a short story is to tell a story, just in shorter space. Not sure what you mean by the reader not feeling they have to invest a lot of time to grasp it, but the depth and scope of a story has far more to do with genre, style, themes, etc, than length. The genre/market has a lot to do with this, too, as 'literary' short stories are usually intended to not just be quick, plot-based 'that was neat' sort of reads, but ones that stick with you and provide a lot to think about, so perhaps take a long time to 'grasp' (though I wasn't exactly sure what you meant by that).

    Novella...?

    This is just, awkward. No offense, but it makes little sense to base what form you're writing in based on whether random readers may or may not have time to read it when you send it to them.
     
  12. chaoserver
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    The way I look at it, is there is no hard limit. However I have often stumbled across extremely short stories that really just speak to the laziness of the author, who had a near idea and as quickly as possible built a story around it.

    I would say HP lovecraft has some very solid examples of short and medium stories, some just a few pages, others far more substantial.
     
  13. Cthulhu
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    Glad to have helped
     
  14. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Yes.

    No.


    I believe Edgar Allen Poe was who gave us that ditty about a short story being intended to be read in one sitting. It's not a bad saying, but back then short stories were often one long passage, not like now days where you'll have a lot of scene breaks, and even bigger breaks (differentiated by 'I' 'II' and such) that are 'parts', that all lend toward comfortably joining back to a short story you're reading. I'll often read for only 5 or 10 minutes a night, right before bed, from short stories, and often need to come back to them multiple times to finish them. They're still short stories, though.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Seems overly wordy to me. Of course he was alone, he is the last man on earth. Redundant.

    Well, other than the woman on the other side of the door...
     
  16. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Your creative writing teacher was probably saying that more because getting some 20 page behemoth of student writing can bring a workshop to a halt, as nobody read it after the first 5 pages of incessant rambling. I've seen similar rules, but they were more for the classroom, less for the publishing markets for short stories.

    You're right in that it depends highly on specific publishers. Some want longer, fuller stories. Some need specific word count ranges so it'll fit with their formatting. Some won't take stories under a certain range because most of the stories they get that were that short were just woefully incomplete, so as a filtering process they don't take any that short anymore.
     
  17. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    A) That would be flash fiction, and not a 'short story' unless you only mean short as an independent adjective and aren't referring to the publishing/writing term of 'short story'

    B) Interesting anecdote, but Hemingway has it beat:

    ;)
     
  18. AvihooI
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    Every short story has a message or emotion attached to it that you feel while finishing to read it. A short story doesn't build a new world or creates a marvelous amount of characters and bodies. It is written in a point of view that the reader can immediately figure.

    What I meant is, if it takes too long for the reader to get into the point of view of a story - then it clearly isn't a short story. That is opposed to longer stories where the reader takes his or hers time to get to know the world in which the story takes place.

    All that was said in contrast to categorizing stories solely on the amount of words they have.
     
  19. cybrxkhan
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    A. I'll concede to you on that one, I guess, but, I mean, it's obviously a very, very, very short story regardless. :rolleyes:

    B) I'll concede on that one too, then.
     
  20. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    There is no 'proper' length besides 'however long it takes.' I have a 5k word short story that I really can't reduce more without it just becoming a synopsis of a short story, instead of the actual story, and really it could probably use a few more scenes (but was written for a class, where brevity is key if you expect people to actually read/respond).

    I also have a short story that is only 1.5k words, and is the story I want to tell, fully and completely.

    The only time you need to worry is when submitting them to markets, that may have requirements, or mostly in your quality. A lot of people think short story means summarizing a bigger idea, when usually the opposite is actually true and often short stories rely on getting in deeper and faster into the story and characters and the real-time action.

    Many publishers, slush pile readers, professors, etc, when first opening a draft and seeing it's only 2k words, will be very suspect that a fully developed and meaningful story is contained within, as it's hard to do that in such space, and often, in published short story markets, stories are longer because I've found most stories take longer to build all the empathy, momentum, tension, etc required for a fulfilling ending.

    All stories should simply take the space needed to exist fully and completely in the least space possible to still be fully and completely actualized. That's just my take on it, though, and why I don't subscribe to people saying you can take more time to 'world build' or 'build up to where the story starts' just because it's a novel. Or think it's then okay to just summarize entire scenes/events because they're trying to keep it short. Stories should take as much space as they need, and the second I as the reader feel you as the writer are trying to BS me in that regard, I stop reading, as I'd rather read a 10k word story that was perfectly spaced and written well, than a 5k story where a writer was clearly trying to meet a word count, and in the process not respecting the story.

    So, really, just take as much time as the stories themselves take. Though, if all your stories are ending up in the same small word-count range, I have my doubts about things.
     
  21. Demented_Thoughts
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    So i guess my project is more like a Novella... it's more of many shorts put together to make up the whole thing each character has their own story and such but i was trying to keep them all as short stories for each one.

    I have lots to learn still as i was just into poetry for about 10 years and gotton into shorts a year ago :)
     
  22. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

    I'm always amazed at how those six words can literally make me cry. And everytime I come across them as well...
     
  23. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Not a bad strategy. I know someone who published a handful of different short stories all about the same people, and then published them as a novel in stories. Double dipping into the publishing coffers is a good idea, and perfectly allowable. :p
     
  24. Demented_Thoughts
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    Well that's good news to my ears... The stories i'm working on are of many different characters and not just one but there is one MC who the stories rely on to keep them moving and such and she does present herself in the other stories as well as the other characters that have to be there.
     
  25. indmoss
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    It's not the size of your story, its how your reader feel/thinks when its over. ( I didn't mean it as a double entendre)
     

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