What Is the Difference Between Novels, Novellas & Short Stories?

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What Is the Difference Between Novels, Novellas & Short Stories?
Novels, novellas and short stories are defined by size and content. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Novels, novellas and short stories are primarily defined by word count. There is no industry-wide standard for precise story length requirements in each category, and required word count varies by publisher, organisation and genre. Content and story structure also play a part in the definition of each format, and a fourth format, the novelette, is sometimes used to describe a piece of narrative prose between novella and short story in size.

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Novel

A novel is a fictional narrative written in chapters with a more complicated storyline and character set than a novella or short story. Novels are generally longer than 40,000 words, although 70,000 to 100,000 words is the typical length for this form of fiction. However, there are exceptions to every rule: George Orwell's "Animal Farm" is 30,000 words, and Tolstoy's "War and Peace" comes in at around 560,000 words, yet both are recognised as novels.

Novella

A novella is also referred to as a short novel. Acceptable word counts vary between publishers and literary organisations but typically fall between 20,000 and 40,000 words. Some publishers recognise as few as 17,500 words as an acceptable count. Novellas are written without chapter breaks, and the complexity of storyline sits midway between the novel and short story. A novella unfolds in under 50,000 words, so the intricacies and layers that you may write into a novel would not have the opportunity to develop fully within the constraints of this shorter format.

Short Story

A short story is a piece of prose fiction between 1,000 and 7,500 words. It is by definition short and to the point, with a concise story arc and direct conclusion to the plot. Short stories are written for reading in one session, and as such, there are no chapters or tangible breaks in the storytelling. A short-story narrative tells a tale succinctly and economically without the need for excessive embellishment.

Novelette

The novelette format lies between a novel and short story. Novelettes are typically between 7,500 and 15,000 words in length and are similar in structure to novellas. The term is not widely used because it is seen in some circles as a derogatory term for a novel that is substandard.

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