What length will you go to in your writing?

When we say ‘creative writing’ what do we mean? Poetry, a story, a play? Perhaps you are moved to write a short story or a piece of flash fiction. Or go for a full-length novel or its little sister, the novella. Let’s unpick some of these…

Plays and poetry are well recognised as such but here I’m looking at stories written in prose – a form that shows a narrative with a natural flow of language in a grammatical structure.

This is an easy one! A fictional narrative of over 50,000 words with a beginning, middle and end and telling a story. It can be literary, genre or popular fiction, highbrow or low brow. The most important aspect is that it develops a coherent story, whatever its style. Most are around the 80,000 – 130,000 depending on genre; romance, crime, sci-fi often come in at the shorter end with historical and literary fiction at the longer end. Sometimes called “long form fiction”, novels are what most people pick up in a bookshop, online or at an airport when they want a ‘good read’. My own Roma Nova novels come in at 90-103,000.

Currently immensely popular as an ebook,”…it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.” (Robert Silverberg)


Today, a novella is often written in between novels, as an accompaniment or complement to other books in a series. Sometimes, an author may be trying out a new genre, character or storyline; other times, they may tell the story of a secondary character. These are quick reads, but no less enjoyable and are typically 20,000 to 45,000 words. War of the Worlds by H G Wells and Animal Farm by George Orwell are famous examples. My own experiment is CARINA (35,000 words), which tells of an incident referred to in later books and a mission that sits between the full-length INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS.


Usually around 7,000 to 17,000 words, so falling in between a novella and a short story. Not much in fashion these days, they are featured in some literary awards such as the Hugo and Nebula science fiction awards.

Short story
Often the first way writers try out their writing legs, the short story is immensely popular. In general, it features a small cast of named characters, and focuses on a self-contained incident or theme, but uses the same techniques of writing as used in a novel. Short stories are often collected together as an anthology by the same author or different authors, or featured in magazines. Moreover, there are countless short story competitions! And their length? Sticking my neck out, I would say 1,200 to 3,500 words, although I was  commissioned to write one of up to 5,000 words for a collection of alternative outcomes for the Norman invasion: 1066 Turned Upside Down.

Flash fiction
A very, very short and succinct fictional work that still shows character and plot development – a tall order! Examples include the Six-Word Story, 140-character stories, also known as “twitterature”, the “dribble” (50 words), “microfiction” (100 words), “sudden fiction” (750 words), “nanotales” and “micro-story”. At its best, flash fiction hints at or implies a larger story.

The common theme: all fiction requires inspiration, good craft and technique. The shortest forms demand pinpointing and extreme distillation, but the long form needs stamina and application. Over to you!


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIAINSURRECTIO and RETALIO.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter

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