Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

How To Choose a Word Count for Your Story Based on Its Type

Choose a Word Count for Your Story Based on Its Type

I’ve been researching all of the options writers have available to tell their stories, from screenplays to novels, poetry to picture books, and dribbles to drabbles. Whether you have a lot of time or a little, you have many options available to you.

Today, I’m breaking down the definition of the various types of stories you can write and what the reader expectation will be, including word counts, publishing options, and the challenges that come along with each of them.

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Publishers often stick to the guidelines below for a few reasons: readers will know what to expect based on the type of story you say you’re telling; because word counts that are higher or lower than the guidelines below typically show inexperience; and because it’s much more challenging to market a story that falls within one of these categories if it’s not precisely falling within one of these categories. In general, publishers prefer shorter stories because they cost less to print.

This guide should help you find the right fit for your story. You can also experiment with different formats, from long-form to short, to see which works best for your tale!

Novel

A novel is a fictional story with anywhere from 50,000 to 110,000 words. Experts in publishing say that most publishers prefer a minimum word count of 70,000, though, and a maximum of 90,000. Anything over that can become a strain on the budget. If it’s young adult fiction, it’s usually on the shorter end of the spectrum. According to Masterclass.com, specific genres have their own word count expectations; Thrillers tend to have 70,000 – 90,000 words; Science Fiction and Fantasy have more world-building elements and so are longer at 90,000 – 120,000 words; Romance novels should be fast and fun to read, so aim for 50,000 words; and Historical Fiction also needs world-building elements, so writers should aim for 100,000 words.

Novella

Novellas can be as short as 10,000 words and as long as 50,000. This type of storytelling falls somewhere between a short story and a novel. It is still considered a “short fiction” format but is the longest of the category. The length gives the writer enough time to tell a strong story and branch out into a bigger cast of characters and more description. Experts agree that publishers seem to be moving away from publishing print novellas, opting instead for e-publishing. Most novellas fall into the Romance, Science Fiction, and Fantasy genres.

Novelette

The novelette is an even shorter version of the novella, with a word count ranging between 7,500 and 20,000 words. Novelettes can be of any genre but originated in romance. Be cautioned that it’s an awkward length of story for much of anything but eBooks because it’s usually too long to put into a magazine but too short for print publication. A novelette is also referred to as a long short story or a short novella.

Short Novel

Shorter novels can be more marketable. Short novels are the same as novellas and are typically 20,000 to 40,000 words, though they have been known to be as short as 10,000 and as long as 50,000. Readers like short novels because they can finish them in a few short reading sessions.

Epic Novel (Or Super Novel)

Epic novels also called super novels, are just that – very long. Most experts would not recommend writing an epic unless you already have a contract with a publisher. The length can be hard to market and intimidating for readers. It’s also challenging to keep readers engaged. Epics are usually considered to be any story over 110,000 words. The story often follows a legendary hero over the years and tends to be based on mythology or historical fiction. Examples include “Lord of the Rings,” written by J.R.R. Tolkien, and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”

Short Story

A short story is anywhere from 1,000 to approximately 7,500 words. It is a self-contained story that includes just a few characters and centers on just one incident or issue. Short story contests often limit the word count to even shorter, though, around 2,500 words, and periodicals and magazines will have their own submission guidelines.

Flash Fiction (or Short Short)

Flash fiction is no longer than 1,000 words. This short-short story is popular among magazines because it doesn’t take up too much space but is entertaining. These stories still have a beginning, middle, and end and often feature a twist ending. Under the umbrella of flash fiction, you also have:

Types of flash fiction

  • Sudden Fiction:

    Sudden fiction refers to slightly longer stories than flash fiction. These stories are usually at least more than 500 words long.

  • Postcard Fiction:

    Postcard fiction should be able to fit on a postcard, meaning it’s no longer than 250 words but could be as short as 25 words. An image usually accompanies the story on one side of the printed piece, with the story on the other side.

  • Microfiction or Nanofiction:

    Micro and nanofiction are the shortest flash fiction category, encompassing stories no longer than 300 words.

  • Drabble:

    Drabbles have precisely 100 words but still have a beginning, middle, end, conflict, and resolution.

  • Dribble or Mini Saga:

    A dribble is a 50-word story, exactly.

  • 6-Word Stories:

    A six-word story is as it sounds. In just six words, tell a complete story and allow the reader to infer what has happened. Examples include “Found true love. Married someone else,” by Dave Eggers, and Ernest Hemingway’s “Please help. Huge baby at large.”

Young Adult Novel

Young adult novels, often abbreviated YA novels, are targeted at teens but still focus on heavy topics. They’re usually no longer than 80,000 words.

Children’s Book

A children’s book’s length and subject matter will depend highly on the age of the child. For middle-schoolers, writers should aim for 20,000 to 50,000 words maximum. For elementary-aged children and early readers of chapter books, aim for 4,000 to 15,000 words. 

Picture Book

Picture books are most often geared toward the youngest of the young readers, who may not read at all but instead have someone read to them. With that said, the book still needs a strong story. For a board book (a book with stiff pages so babies can’t tear them out), include up to 100 words. For an early-age picture book, that number creeps up to 400 words. And for a general picture book, write only 600 words maximum.

Now that you understand the storytelling options, it’s time to write! Quickly generate a story idea to get started right away with a bit of assistance from writer Victoria Lucia, or use these story idea methods from Disney and Dreamworks writer Ricky Roxburgh.

The possibilities are endless,

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