Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2006


It has been said that short stories are for busy people or for those with short attention spans. But it seems that no matter what one says about short stories versus novels, as many exceptions support the opposite argument, and it becomes hard to pin down precisely what comprises a short story. For instance, the busy or distracted reader can meander in and out of a novel for ten-minute intervals, but cannot with a short story. Thus the classic definition of a short story that it must be able to be read in one sitting. Yet there is no strict consensus on the defining traits of the short story, which is technically a genre, not a form, and yet resists the precise definitions that usually surround both. The only obvious criterion, of course, is the defining length, approximately under fifty-pages: typically in the 12-16 or 18-24 page range, but sometimes in the 28-36 and occasionally even 38-48 page range.[1] Other definitions place the maximum word length at 7,500 words, and in contemporary usage, the term short story most often refers to a work of fiction no longer than 20,000 words and no shorter than 1,000. Stories shorter than 1,000 words fall into the flash fiction or “short short story” genre; stories surpassing the maximum length approach the areas of novelettes, novellas, or novels

[1] Prof. Alicia Erian, Newhouse Visiting Professor of Writing, Wellesley College, April 10, 2006.