Akeem Balogun takes a look at the different forms (bands) of fiction
The novel is the most well-known form of fiction. After that, the popularity of all the other forms decreases, and this fall is almost in direct correlation with each one’s length. In terms of size the short story is the only other form of fiction outside the novel, but it can be broken down into further sections, which I am going to call bands. I am using this term because the distinctions between the forms I will be looking at are only in word count, not in content or structure. The main ones, in order of length, shortest to longest, are: dwarf fiction (which is more commonly known as a dwarf story), micro fiction, flash fiction, the novelette, the novella and the novel. As there is no term for stories possessing word counts in-between the bands of flash fiction and the novelette I’m going to call the pieces that do short fiction. This is a very generic term that doesn’t offer much distinction from its name alone as it’s identical to the term short story, but as it is used less often than the latter I will use it to describe the unnamed band.
Besides the border between the novella and the novel, none of the other bands have a clear limit to show when a piece of writing is transgressing its form. The purpose of this post is to outline the generally accepted limits of length for each band, not to create rules. All of the following explanations come from my own research, understanding and also from what I have been taught about writing.
Dwarf fiction (or dwarf stories) can be stories that have a word count of 6 (or less if possible) to 99 words. It isn’t as popular as the other bands except for the occasional hype which exists around 6 word stories. Its length means it is rarely taken too seriously, and its construction is usually a fun process that doesn’t invoke too much stress or anger – not to say one is easy to write. At such a short length it’s hard not to like dwarf fiction as even the most dreadful tale can be forgiven when it has taken the readers time so seriously, even if unintentionally.
Micro fiction can be any story containing 100 to 299 words. It holds the same magic as dwarf fiction to a certain extent due to its brevity although it can’t avoid criticism to the same extent as it’s longer and has breached the double figure word count. It’s more popular than its smaller sibling and usually easier to write, but it’s not as common as its older relatives.
Flash fiction. Again, there is no clear limit but anything that falls in between 300 to 999 words is a perfect qualifier. As expected, it is far more popular than its less spacious kin.
Short fiction. As I said earlier, this term isn’t normally used to describe writing that has a word count falling in-between that of flash fiction and the novelette as it’s common to call any piece of fiction that isn’t novel length short fiction, but any story that has a word count lying between 1000 to 7499 would fit into this band nicely. With that limit set, short fiction is the most popular of all forms of fiction outside the novel, as well as the most common. It far exceeds the word limit set on Inkposts but it’s not hard to find pieces of this length anywhere.
The novelette has no clear word limit but it is acceptable to say that a novelette tale should have a word count of in-between 7500 to 17,499. The novelette band is the least popular of all. It’s so uncommon that plenty of writers have never heard of it and simply call it a short story, which is absolutely fine. The same can be said of its close relative: the novella.
The novella. Any story that fits in-between 17,500 to 39,999 words can comfortably slide into this band. Some people consider the novella to have a lower admission of 15,000 words, which is where the overlap with the novelette occurs. Like the latter, the novella isn’t overly popular (probably due to its close relationship with the novel). It isn’t making a comeback like some of the other bands and is unlikely to due to its total eclipse by short fiction and its overlap with the novel.
The final band is the novel, which starts from 40,000 words to infinity, and no explanation is needed for that one so happy writing and, more importantly, happy reading.
Do you have any thoughts or opinions to share on the different bands of fiction? Let us know in the comments below
Great review of the different types of fiction! I enjoyed reading through this post, Inkposts!
Thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I hope you (and anyone else who comes across it) found it useful.
That’s interesting- I was unaware of the dwarf and the novelette. Apparently my “short” stories usually fit the latter category. My real fear in writing is the no mans land of novella because other than an ebook there isn’t a print market for them…although I like them (see The Mist, and kings Different Seasons) do you recall which of these types they used to call Chap Books?
No man’s land is a perfect description of the novella in today’s climate. I agree: it, and a few of the others, should appear in print more often rather than just ebook. It would bring the form a bit more prestige and respect if it was available in a physical format, and I’m always a supporter of brief reads. Not every epic story has to have 100,000 words+. I’ll definitely try and check out the ones you’ve just mentioned. I have heard of chap books, but I’m not sure of their average word length. I’m guessing they would have been very short as they were only pocket sized.