1. BMacKay40
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    BMacKay40 Member

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    What is a short story?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BMacKay40, Aug 2, 2013.

    Here's a crazy question. What is a short story? The first book that I wrote was a novel and it was about 100,000 words. Since then, in order to get more interest in my character, I've decided to start a short story series called "Covert-World." In case you haven't guessed, they are spy thrillers. They range in length from 13,000 words to just under 23,000 words, but anytime I see contests to enter short stories, they all have to be under 1500 words.

    1500 words? Unless it's a children's book, I just can't imagine writing something that was only 1500 words. Is there a category I need to be looking for in order to fit my stories in that category? Medium stories perhaps?

    Just curious.
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    1500 words is a pretty low limit. Different short story contests will have different word limits. I've seen some that allow up to 12,000 words. There may be some that allow slightly more than that, although I don't remember having seen them. I don't know that there are "official" delineations between shorts, novellas, and novels, but I think most short stories are under 12K. Your 23K word story strikes me as long for a short story (although short for a novella), but there may be a market for it -- keep searching.

    I know it's frustrating. Most of my shorts are in the 3K range, and I was frustrated that one contest I wanted to enter had a limit of 2500 words. I agree with you that I personally would have a hard time writing something that was less than 1500 words, but there are plenty of people who can and who do it well.

    So, I know that there are lots of contests and journals that accept stories that are much longer than 1500 words. I don't know about markets for those above 15K, though. Someone else here probably has some better insight than I do, since I've just started really exploring this marketplace.

    Good luck!
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I reckon the low word count required for a short story contest is more to do with the amount of work the judges want to take on, rather than what people actually like to read outwith the competition.

    Probably why there are very few 'novel' contests out there, despite novels being the most lucrative and popular form of fiction.
     
  4. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    Many, many print and digital litmags set 3,500-5,000-word limits for short fiction submissions.
     
  5. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    It is a skill to be able to write a coherent story in few words. Perhaps you should try it, you may find it improves your writing. There are plenty of adult short stories out there (children's stories are often just as long as adults if not longer - check out Harry Potter series).

    I could be wrong (forgive me if I am) but I thought I detected a hint of snobbery in your question. Perhaps you should spend some time reading some short (under 5000 word) short stories. The short story club on this forum is a good start.

    As for story contests (such as this one) I would struggle to read 10 stories of 22000 words, so a limit of 3000 is a good one.
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's not a bad count, 3000 words FOR A CONTEST. But it's so the judges can get through all the entries in a reasonable amount of time. It's NOT got anything to do with story quality.

    That's what worries me. It's beginning to sound like people think 3000 words should be the upper limit for short stories, period. It's not. It's an optimum upper limit for contests. A story takes as long as it takes.

    If your tale (assuming it's edited properly and not padded out) gets too long to be a short story, it's a novella. If it gets too long for a novella, it's a novel. If it gets too long for a novel, it's a trilogy, or a sequel, or whatever. There is nothing intrinsically good or bad in any of these lengths, and they are all legitimate.

    If you're telling a simple story that takes place over a short period of time, or involves only a brief aspect of your character's life, or is about a single incident, then by all means, write a short story. If you want to tell a more involved tale with more characters and incident, that takes place over a longer period, then you'll need to write a longer story!

    Its' not always worthwhile to take the fastest route to the end of the story. Just like any journey, sometimes it's the journey itself, not the destination, that makes it all worthwhile.

    Here's a link to a site that lists some classic short stories and their word counts. You'll see there's lots of variety. I believe that's how it should be, but you're free to disagree, of course!

    http://www.classicshorts.com/bib.html
     
  7. BMacKay40
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    BMacKay40 Member

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    No snobbery intended. Just curious. Sorry if it came across that way.
     
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You certainly didn't come across as snobbish to me. I think your initial question is a very good one. Contests have certainly skewed what we now think of as the proper length for a 'short story.'
     

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