Is a novel 50,000 or 120,000? Is a short story 1000 words or 10,000? Well … it depends. I know. You wanted something concrete, didn’t you. Sorry. But we’re largely talking about creative writing here and that is inexact: it’s art, after all.
Let’s play with some ballpark figures to satisfy your curiosity and test your commitment to writing that opus.
A novel can be anywhere from 50,000 to 120,000 – most novels, however, fall in the 80,000 to 100,000 band. If anything, novels are becoming smaller as readers appetites change and the industry proceeds in a state of flux following the spread of indie publishing.
Genre tends to favour broad word counts. Historical fiction often heads to the top end of the range while lighter romance may be at the lighter end. Young Adult often finds its mark around the 40,000 to 60,000 word zone.
At the other end of the spectrum, a short story tends to be in the 5,000 to 10,000 word range. If you are entering competitions though, follow their guidelines: if they ask for a 1,000 word short story then stick to that; if they want 2,500 words, comply. The competition organiser is the one you need to please so make sure you do not go over their word count.
Children’s books vary by age grouping. Picture books romp in around the 300-600 word count while sub-teens are from 1,000 to 10,000 and teens are able to manage 20,000 to 50,000 words.
As I said, word count is a tad flexible.
Reedsy posit the following:
- Short story: under 7,500
- Novelette: between 7,500 and 17,500
- Novella: between 17,500 and 40,000
- Novel: over 40,000 but generally 50,000-70,000
If you’re looking more on the short side, there’s a difference between and dribble and a drabble.
In summary, there are no hard and fast rules but there are broad parameters to what is considered acceptable length for various forms and genres. Bear in mind there are exceptions and they survive because the story carried despite the normal word count.
So, if you are entering a competition, stick to the requested word count or you will be disqualified without even been read.
If you are looking to write a story, determine a general indicative word length then write away. Revision and editing is where you then firm up the word count. For most writers, once they get the first draft down it is more likely to be a case of cutting words than padding them out. The story will take the space it needs. Crafting the draft will tell you whether you have a novel or a novella.