I told a friend of mine the other day that I was enjoying getting into writing Flash Fiction. He looked at me a little strangely and I found myself wishing I hadn’t worn my trench coat out to lunch after all. So, in-between bites of smoked salmon, I explained what Flash Fiction was. Once home and sufficiently recovered from my salmon and Riesling stupor, I thought it might be a good exercise to describe Flash and his fiction cousins. (They’re rather an inbred mob, so try to ignore the identity confusion and squabbling.)
A Drabble is a story of exactly 100 words. It’s often misused to describe a short-short story. The purpose of a Drabble is to test the writer’s ability to write well in only a 100 words. (A Drabble is the dribble of the cousins and has a terrible inferiority complex.)
Flash Fiction is generally fiction up to 1000 words, although often publishers are asking for stories between 250 to 750. Generally the most prominent requirement of flash is its brevity. Flash Fiction is sometimes also known as microfiction, micro-story, postcard fiction, sudden fiction, furious fiction and short-short story. (I told you the cousins are confused.) Flash Fiction, despite its length, should contain key elements of the classic story, such as character development, clarity, and conflict and resolution, although one or more of these elements might be implied only. The challenge is to tell a complete story in less than 750-1000 words. This has clear similarities to poetry, whereby every word is essential. And herein lies its appeal to me – making bare-bones writing sing with beauty. (Flash is brash and ballsy and will bare all with no warning.)
The short-short story is generally a story between 500-2000 words. This term will probably eventually be swallowed up by its hungry cousin, Flash.
A short story is usually around the 1000-7500 word mark, but can be anything up to 20,000. The classic definition being that it should be able to be read in one sitting. Short stories originate from oral story telling and are considered to be a more concise form than longer works of fiction and regarded as a very challenging art form. (Short is the most serious of the cousins, suffering from small-man-syndrome and an over-inflated ego.)
A novella is generally between 15,000 and 40,000 words. It’s longer than a novelette (7500, 17,500) and shorter than a novel. Of Mice and Men and Animal Farm are two examples of a novella. (Novella is shy and underdeveloped. All she wants in life is to get her first bra and be able stop bathing with her cousins – it’s humiliating.)
The standard length for commercial fiction is 100,000 words. Literary fiction has more leeway, generally ranging from 50,000-150,000 words. With changes to the publishing industry and the advent of pod (publish on demand), book lengths will no doubt become less important. (Novel is a bully, he’s King of the yard and throws his weight around with no regard to his lesser cousins, hence they hate him and call him fatty-fat-fat behind his back.)
Just write, I say, and then see which cousin has popped in to visit you…