Short Story, Novel, or Novella
Or What Is My Story Anyway?
"What is my story? Is it a short story, maybe a novel, or could it be called a novella?"
A very legitimate, and often complicated question. What defines a piece of writing as one of these? Is it the length of it? Possibly the structure? Is it the story itself? The answer is all of these, sometimes. There is no easy answer, but there are guidelines that can help in understanding which of these best suit the story that you want to write. Let's explore the different classifications that a piece of fiction can fall under and what defines each of them.
To understand the following descriptions and guidelines, it may be helpful to first look at the meaning of certain terms that are used in them. Below is a list of words and their definitions. Look over them carefully and become familiar with what they refer to in the context of your writing.
This can have two slightly different meanings in writing. When refering to the form of a piece of writing, it can mean that it is a poem, a work of prose, a play, a screenplay, or something else. In a more specific sense, it is the way a fictional work is written. It may be in the form of a letter, a journal, a series of emails between characters, or maybe even be in verse.
Structure has to do with the frame of the piece of fiction. It may involve a single incident or many, a couple setbacks for the character or several, the spot that the climax takes place within the piece, the length of the denouement if there even is one, and so forth. The work may be a single long third-person narrative, a series of very short first-person passages from multiple characters, or a number of other possibilities. All these refer to structure and help define exactly what it is.
This is the piece of the story that is at the beginning that introduces the reader to the main character, sets the scene, and so on. The lead in is very short today, as writers prefer to start as near the 'precipitating incident' as possible now.
This is the thing that happens that chnges the status quo, or the thing that makes the story happen. Whatever this is, it changes the normal flow of events for the main character and begins the rising action.
This is the main body of the story that leads up to the climax.
This is something that happens that changes the direction of the action. It can be a setback, a decision, or some other event.
The climax is where the protagonist must face their problems. The problems can be anything, including natural events, an antagonist, or something within the character themselves.
Simply the resolution.
Everything is back to normal.
With these covered, and hopefully remembered, lets discuss the different categories that a piece of writing can be classified as. They have to do with both the length and the structure of the story. Most fiction can be categorized as either short stories or novels, with some mid-length works known as novellas. We will cover these and touch upon a couple others as well. These are just guidelines, nothing set in stone, as each of them can overlap greatly in both the word count and the structure. We will begin with the shortest and work our way through to the longest.
Short Short Stories & Flash Fiction
These are two types of writing that are usually under 1,000 words and often less than 500. They rely heavily on the use of allusions by the writer. Allusions are references to things outside the work itself that bring to mind other connections and connotations for the reader. Because of their extremely short length, this allows the writer to increase their impact while greatly reducing the number of words the writer has to use to tell the story. A shortened version of the short story structure could possibly be used for this type of piece.
A short story is prose fiction that can reach a word count of 7,499 words to usually no more than 15,000 words at most. The focus of a short story is typically on the life of one, or possibly a couple, of characters. They are centered on a single, very significant, incident. More characters, events, or other complications may be added, but usually aren't because adding this could carry the length of the story beyond this classification. The common structure for a short story is listed below, from the beginning to the end.
This is term that is used very little anymore that describes a type of fiction that falls between the short story and the novella. The length is normally from 7,500 to 17,499 words. The structure of either the short story or the novella could be used for this type of story.
A novella is a piece of work that is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. The normal length is from 17,500 words to 39,999 words. In other words, it is a mid-length work, but it has a particular structure. The structure is similar to that of the short story except that it also includes what is called a reversal. It is common for the novella to begin close to the precipitating incident, but then travel back to fill in necessary background detail before returning to the normal flow of events. The typical structure of the novella is listed below.
A long piece of fiction is referred to as a novel. The minimum word count for this type of piece is 40,000 words. The actual length can vary greatly. A novel is typically much more complex than either the short story or the novella, the structure normally containing numerous reversals. The novel can be only slightly more comlplicated than a short story, in fact even using the short story structure, though this is unusual and seldom done. The complexity of it is virtually unlimited. There may only be a few characters or many; there is plenty of room to explore them in a novel. The falling action and the denouement are usually longer, as the writer needs more time to get things back to normal and show the results of the climax because of all the complications. The typical structure of the novel is listed below.
*Reversal (Can be as many as the writer wants)
So, which of these should your story be? There are a number of ways to determine this. You can just write and see what your story becomes, or you can plan out your story. If it is a simple tale, with one or two characters, takes place in a short amount of time, and focuses on a single important event, then it may be best told as a short story. If it is a very complicated tale, with a lot of characters, spans a great period of time, and involves many events, then it may be better suited as a novel. In the end, it is up to you and your story to decide. Experiment with the way that you tell your story. Try using the different structures listed above to see which one you and your story like the best. Every story and every writer will be able to find what works for them, and each will be different. Knowing this, go, fire up the computer, and start writing. No matter what it is, a great story is still a great story.