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Writing and Composition
Creative Writing
Short Stories
Writing: Plot and Setting

What should the length of a short story be?


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September 30, 2012 11:14AM

It really depends on the author and/or publisher what they think a short story is, and how long it can be before it becomes a novella. :) According to Wikipedia, one definition sets the limit at 7,500 words, and contemporary limits set the stories anywhere between 1,000 and 20,000 words.

Short stories are also sometimes described as works of fiction that can be read at one sitting rather than at several the way the novel generally is read. Of course, this definition is geared toward a reader with average reading ability and is just a general guide as opposed to a hard and fast definition. Edgar Allan Poe described a short story, or tale, in his critique of Nathaniel Hawthorne's book of short stories, "Twice Told Tales", as a story that should take about a half hour to one or two hours to read.
A short story should be only long enough for an average reader to finish it in one sitting rather than several as the longer novel or novella normally takes. This usually means it will be somewhere under 10,000 words. Edgar Allan Poe once described short stories, or 'tales' as they were then called as "...short prose narrative, requiring from a half-hour to one or two hours in its perusal...During the hour the hour of perusal the soul of the reader is at the writer's control. There are no external or extrinsic influences resulting from weariness or interruption." This was taken from a review he had made in 1842 of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Twice Told Tales." This is why it is common to say that a short story should be read in one sitting.