Monday 2 October 2017

Exploring Genres - Short Fiction

by Jeanette O'Hagan

This year, the cross posts between Christian Writers Downunder and Australasian Christian Writers are focusing on genre. So far, we’ve had posts on meeting genre expectations, in Space Opera and Superheroes, Portal Fantasy and Secondary World Fantasy, Poetry, Free Verse and Verse Novels , Regency and Historical RomanceRural and Medical Romance and Supernatural Fiction.

This month we are exploring 'short fiction'.

Short fiction can come in any genre - and a range of sizes, from six words up to 50,000 words. And while it may seem easier to write less, short fiction requires it's own set of skills to do it well. 

Types of short fiction: 

1. Mirco-Fiction - up to 100 words. 

Though hard to write well, these are becoming increasingly popular with mobile phones and texting and twitter (140 characters). Clearly, every word must count. 

Ernest Hemingway's famous example of a six word story is as follows 'For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.'

Mixed Blessings - Genre-lly Speaking

2. Flash Fiction - between 100-1000 words. 

These stories can be used as 'palate cleansers' between longer stories in magazines. 

The Faith Writers Challenge requires no more than 750 words on a weekly theme (and the best are collected and published by Breath of Fresh Air Press in the Mixed Blessing books). A number of members have appeared in the pages, including Nola Passmore, Simon Kennedy, Jo Wanmer, and myself. 

Writing flash fiction helps tighten one's prose. The focus is often one or two scenes or on the climax of the story.

3. Short Story  - between 1,000 - 7,500 words

This is often what we think of as a short story. Many competitions, periodical, 'zines and anthologies require this length - often around 2000 to 3000 words.  Speculative fiction (sci-fi and fantasy) have bigger words counts of between 7000-10,000 words. For instance, two spec anthologies that I had successful submission to - Tales from the Underground and Quantum Soul preferred stories around 10,000 words.

There is more room to manoeuvre, but focus and tight writing are still essential. It's important to streamline --- limit the story to a short period time, small cast of characters, with few if any subplots, and start the story close to the finish. 

4. Novellette - 7,500 - 20,000 words

A novellette falls in between a short story and a novella. Heart of the Mountain started life as a short story (my original attempt at the 7000 word limit for submissions for Glimpses of Light anthology) but blew out to over 11,000 words, so I wrote Ruhanna's Flight instead (7000 word exactly). Later, I expanded HOM to 15,500 words.

Yet, I think there is confusion with the term 'novellette'. For some, it means a novella. Many others have never heard of the term. So, I've called Heart of the Mountain 'short novella'.

5. Novella - 20,000 - 50,000 words

A novella (and to some extent a novellette) allows more complexity, with perhaps more characters and twists and  develops over a longer period of time. 

Some famous classical works are novellas - for instance Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), H. G. Well's The Time Machine (1895), Charles Dicken's A Christmas Carol (1843),  Geroge Orwell's Animal Farm (1945) and many others.


Periodicals, zines, collections and anthologies are usually the home of short fiction.  

However, short fiction can be published on it's own. For instance, I and others (like Aussie authors Adam Collings, Sue Jeffreys or Meredith Resce) have published short stories or novellas as stand alone e-books. Novellas, particularly, can be published on their own --- both as e-books and also as print books. 

Where There's Smoke

When I decided to publish Heart of the Mountain, I planned on an additional three novellas with the intention of combing all four into a single print volume. I thought that each novella would be too small to publish on their own (especially in the case of HOM). However, I have now published both Heart of the Mountain and Blood Crystal as stand alone print books and am very happy with the result, especially as the books are aimed at the Young Adult market. I chose a smaller cover size (8x5 inches rather than 9x6). 

Short fiction can also be collected in boxed sets - as for instance An Aussie Summer Christmas Boxed set - which allows fans to sample fiction from a range of authors - in this case Andrea Grigg, Narelle Atkins, Rose Dee, Meredith Resce, Marion Ueckermann and Lacey Williams. 

Jewel of The Stars - Season 1 Episode 1 - Earth's Remnant

Another innovative approach is publishing short fiction as a series (similar to TV series) in which 'episodes' within a 'season' are published with individual story arcs plus an over-arching series arc. Adam David Collings is taking this approach with his Jewel of the Star series, having so far published the 'pilot' Earth's Remnant which sets up the series, and a prequel episode.

Short fiction has advantages for both readers and writers. 

For readers:

  • In a time-pressed word, short fiction can be enjoyed without a huge time investment - often over half an hour or a couple of hours. One can start and finish a story without having to worry about when one might get a chance to read again.
  • It also gives the reader a chance to sample a range of unknown authors. This is especially true for anthologies or boxed sets, which include a range of authors, one or more of which may be already known to the reader. 
  • At its best, short fiction can be thought-provoking, evocative, original, experimental.
  • On the other hand, short fiction may leave a reader wanting more character development and/or world building or plot complexity. 

For writers:

  • It's a great way to break into the market, as there are many opportunities for competitions or anthologies or to self-publish.
  • While not easy to write, short fiction requires less investment of time and money (for editing etc) than a full length novel.
  • Short fiction can help a writer to hone her (or his) skills - to write powerfully with less words, to set the scene or show character without the fluff, to better understand plot and story structure.
  • Short fiction can be an opportunity to experiment with subject, genre, approach without a huge investment in time (so it's not so critical if it doesn't work out).
  • Short fiction tied into the novel world can be a way of either introducing the novel, continuing momentum between novels (and keeping fans happy), filling out the story world,  and/or as a freebie in promotions. 
  • It can be fun to write.

Perhaps short fiction are like an artist's sketch compared to a fully developed painting. Both can be beautiful, both have different functions, both tell a story.

Over the last four years, I've enjoyed playing with short stories at different lengths and have had several published in a range of anthologies. Generally, a story has it's own innate length. The trick is limiting the complexity or the number of needed scenes for the word count and then paring back the excess wordage. Sometimes this means sacrificing scenes or elements you like (or deciding to try again with another story).

Have you written (or read) short fiction? What do you like (or dislike) about this form? Who do you think does it well?


Jeanette started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of eight or nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users.

Recent publications include her novellas Heart of the Mountain and Blood Crystal and short stories The Herbalist's Daughter and Lakwi's Lament and her novel Akrad's Children. Other short stories and poems are published in a number of anthologies, including Glimpses of Light and Futurevision with three anthologies coming out this month - Redemption anthology, Tales From the Underground, and Quantum Soul.

Jeanette continues to write her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements.

Find her at her Facebook Page or at Goodreads or on Amazon or on her or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes . if you want to stay up-to-date with latest publications and developments, sign up to Jeanette O'Hagan Writes e-mail newsletter.


  1. Wow! An excellent post Jenny with lots of breadth and depth to it. Thanks for spelling it out so well. We writers are spoilt for choice in such a range of stories we can write. Short stories are fun to create I do agree. And make a good read too. Well done on all that you've achieved. Loved seeing the covers of stories written by many in CWD including yours Jenny. Good stuff!

    1. Thanks, Anusha. I agree, they are fun to write. I love the talent in our group 😊

  2. Hi Jenny, what a great post. I think that as the length of a piece gets shorter, the talent to pull it off in some ways increases. I've read quite a few of those you've mentioned and aim to get through the others too. And it's been great to see more of them increase in popularity, as you've mentioned.

    1. Thanks, Paula. I think you're right, the shorter the piece the harder it is to pull it off. That said, it's still fun to read and it can be a powerful medium.

  3. I liked reading short stories but don't usually seem able to write them. Lucky for me, I know plenty of people who can. :-)

    1. I really liked the short story you had in Glimpses of Light, Lynne. Would be good to see more of them.

    2. Yes, agreed. I enjoyed your story in Glimpsed of Light, Lynne. It took me a few goes to to keep a story within cooee of the word limit.

  4. Thanks for that run-down, Jenny, and congratulations on all the short stories/novellas you've had published in the last few years. They're harder to write than they look, but very rewarding when you manage to pull it off just right. I've had a problem with scope in the past (i.e. thinking of novel-length ideas for short stories), so there's a real skill in paring it back. I really like what you and Adam have done with your novellas too. Would love to have a go at that myself - when the novel's finished - LOL Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Nola. I've loved your short stories in GOL and Futurevision and think a novella linked to your novels world is a great idea - once the novel is finished 😊

  5. Thanks Jenny, I found that very helpful. I often wonder how long each of the short fiction things are meant to be. Congratulations on your own success.

  6. Thanks for this very informative and interesting Post, Jenny. What a talented lot of writers you are. There's a lot be said about keeping it short and sweet.
    I keep telling myself that when I launch into my long historicals :)

    1. Thanks, Rita. Ther is also something to be said for a long, rich read - whether historical or speculative fiction.

  7. Hi Jenny, thanks so much for this post. It's great to get clarification about the different types of short fiction and word counts along with examples. Very informative and interesting.
    I've really enjoyed getting into the short stories from yourself and others that you've mentioned above.

    1. Thanks, Linsey. I'm enjoying reading short fiction too. It's a great way to sample different authors

  8. Thanks for expounding the features of shorter fiction, Jeanette. I've been writing some short works recently, and it's interesting how easily that concise, single plot focus can get hazy when only writing novel-length work for a while. I think writing short fiction's a great way of developing one's writing skills. I just need to take my own advice more frequently. LOL