Fiction Forms, Long & Short

Welcome to Fiction Forms, Long & Short

Short stories can be rather stark and bare unless you put in the right detail. … Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better.

—V.S. Pritchett

Travel through these six modules has been, in many ways, similar to the writing journey, a process of learning, trying, and developing in spurts, marathons, and across perplexing or inspirational pauses. Yet it is with slightly evil joy that I remind you, dear student, writing is itself a journey not a destination, and this is not the end of your trek. It is a mezzanine between floors. Below you lies the material we have covered thus far and the experience you brought with you on day one. Your pockets, and maybe a black messenger bag slung across one shoulder, are reservoirs of whatever you imagine you’ll need for the next segment of your journey and the next and the next and the next. Along the way you’ll find many things to add to those reservoirs and you’ll undoubtedly lose a few things too—even the best pockets (and memories) develop holes—mostly you’ll probably find those pockets aren’t adequate and you’ll soon need a spinner case and steamer trunk … and moving van. But as we pause here in the mezzanine, it’s time to move closer to creating something. Let’s learn a little bit about the studio we’re working in. The studio of short fiction. Rather than ramble on here, repeating what so many others have already said in much better ways, let’s get right to reading:

Reading 1:

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Becoming a Fiction Aficionado by Shauna Pivratsky

How Long Should Your Story Be? by Lee Masterson

Reading 2:

I know, it’s almost pedagogic suicide to even suggest Wikipedia, but it really is a good place for information! So without one iota of reservation, I give you the Wikipedia entry, Short Story.

Reading 3:

And finally, a couple more articles to prepare your gray matter for short story immersion:

Flashes on the Meridian: Dazzled by Flash Fiction by Pamelyn Casto at

The Form of the Short Story at

The defining lengths for fiction forms seem to be in constant motion, redefined every decade or so depending upon what’s new in the fiction lexicon. For your future reference and project planning, this list from Wikipedia of fiction form by length will help you get your mind around the differences.

  • Flash fiction: A work of fewer than 2,000 words. (1,000 by some definitions) (around 5 pages)
  • Short story: A work of at least 2,000 words but under 7,500 words. (5–25 pages)
  • Novelette: A work of at least 7,500 words but under 17,500 words. (25–60 pages)
  • Novella: A work of at least 17,500 words but under 50,000 words. (60–170 pages)
  • Novel: A work of 50,000 words or more. (about 170+ pages)
  • Epic: A work of 200,000 words or more. (about 680+ pages)

Ref., Fiction Forms

And a final note on length: It is rumored that another author once challenged Ernest Hemingway to write a story using only six words. From all that we’ve just read about the short story, one wonders if this can be done. Hemingway stepped up to the challenge with this

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Can you identify the necessary elements for this to be considered a story, albeit an incredibly short one? Does it evoke emotion, thought, reflection?

You have the right to not change anything, but don’t be a fool. Change things if somebody else is right. But if you do change something because somebody else is right, you must instantly take credit for it yourself.

—Edward Albee


We’re not knocking on the door of the great Hemingway and trying to cut something to such a bare bone. Rather, we’re ending this course with a more typical-length short story at 1,500 to 2,000 words. As I said earlier, this is a draft. It doesn’t need to be perfected, yet it should show knowledge of what we have learned through this course and aim to take the shape of short fiction. Return to Module 5 where you laid the groundwork for the characters and other elements to prepare for this story and use that material now. While you write keep in mind what you hope to show through this story (theme) and recall the techniques you learned such as verb tense choices, setting/milieu, characters, point of view and voice, incluing, dialogue forms, composition, etc. Revisit the previous modules and reading material as needed.

Mind that your initial draft will likely be over or under the projected 1500- to 2000-word goal. That’s fine because I would like you to do one or two edits of your story before you submit, to bring it within the required word count and begin to refine it. As I also mentioned earlier, I do not expect this to be a perfectly finished story but a solid foundation for one. I will provide feedback and with those notes in hand, after a brief period away from the story (time and space are important between drafts), you should return to it and with a clear eye refine it toward something you would call finished. (And I hope you’ll consider submitting it someday to a literary journal or contest!)

Complete your assignment in MSWord or Open Office. When finished, click the submit link below to send your assignment to the instructor.

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Shape of story article: – includes practical and clear advice about story elements, plot/story arc, importance of character, exposition, etc. Great primer for story basics.

Regarding the specific forms/lengths here, discuss differences in scope (hours or days vs. weeks, months, years, centuries–and exceptions like DaVinci Code taking place in 24 hours); space/need for degrees of scene, setting, character background, etc. from the bare of flash to the depth in an epic novel.


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