One of the questions most frequently asked in creative writing classes is “how long is a novel/play/short story/screenplay?” And, as is often the case in creative writing, the answer is that there are no rules but… there kind of are.
There is not an official cut off word count for any of the above literary forms but the publishing industry has generally accepted average lengths. Be alive to the fact that just because your word count has hit the “magic number”, it does not follow that you are finished. Apart from the fact you’ll be lobbing off at least a third in edits, you also need be sure that you have brought all the strands of your story to satisfactory conclusion, have made your point and your character has undergone some sort of change / journey / learning arc in the process. Otherwise, to paraphrase Truman Capote, your’re just typing.
What follows is a rough guide/ballpark figure for each literary form:
The average commercial novel is 78,000 words in length; this roughly amounts to 300 A4 pages in double spaced twelve-point font. However, a novel can be anything from 45,000 words onwards. A book between 20,000 – 45,000 is usually marketed as a “novella”.
Traditionally, a short story is meant to be read in one sitting. Normally, this narrative form is quite pointed in its message, involves a single setting and few characters. A short story can be anything from 1,000-20,000 words.Writing short stories is a good way of building up your story telling skills, honing your craft as a writer and amassing a writing portfolio. Also, the short story is the literary form favoured by writing competitions. Such competitions usually look for stories in the 2,000-5,000 word bracket.
This is the short story’s kid brother. Somewhat akin to the Haiku, a flash fiction story often aims to capture a fleeting moment. It can be any thing between 100-1,000 words. Flash fiction is becoming very popular in competitions these days. Personally, I think this may be to save reading time for judges.
The standard “Hollywood” screenplay is 90 minutes long. Given the rule of thumb that one page equals one minute of movie, you should be aiming for a90-page long screen play. Obviously, this is an approximation.
Likewise, the page per minute rule applies here too. Bear in mind the slot your are aiming for. commercial TV and radio stations will include advert breaks in their schedule – so a half hour comedy show might in fact be only 22 minutes long etc… If you have a slot in mind, time the duration of the actual show (excluding theme music and commercial breaks.)
The page per minute rule can roughly be applied to stage plays too. If a stage play were to last an hour and a half, it should be 20,000 words long and span 90 pages.
A poem can be as short or as long as you like. A haiku is traditionally 17 syllables over three line. The Iliad is 25,000 lines long. For the try outs, however, you might aim for two or three verses.
December 26th, 2011 at 16:38
I love that you share all of this information. It’s extremely generous of you.
December 27th, 2011 at 00:06
Extremely informative, as always!!
December 27th, 2011 at 10:28
I follow your blog. I’ll give you a challenge. Read my latest blog about a moustrap and see if you can offer EVEN ONE suggestion how to turn it into a short story
December 27th, 2011 at 23:00
Always useful information here. Much gratitude!
December 28th, 2011 at 00:52
Very interesting and nice to have some guidelines…..thanks for posting. 😉
January 3rd, 2012 at 02:02
Thanks for posting this – I never knew there was any rule of thumb for writers. This helps a lot.
January 9th, 2012 at 12:02
This is very informative. It inspired me to try writing fiction. I have done poems but what I want to try writing short inspirational stories. It’s going to be a long way before I write a novel. Again thank you!
January 21st, 2012 at 06:11
Thanks for this valuable information. Your postings are inspiring in many ways.
June 12th, 2012 at 17:36
Excellent work it is very informative thank you! I look forward to reading more and thanks for the follow!