Uphill Writing reader and frequent commenter, Loreen Lee asked that I get into the  differences between a Novel, a Novella, and a Short Story.

Image: booksloveme.blogspot.com

Good question, Loreen.  And a tough one.

My understanding has always been that it was just a matter of length, and an extensive search has not disavowed me of this notion.

However, let’s take a look at what might be sound logical distinctions between the three types of manuscript.

As we saw yesterday, a Short Story (somewhere between 500 to 5000 words in length) is likely the most difficult of the three to write.  In order to be successful in the Short Story world you need to be able to express ideas clearly and concisely while managing to be compelling.  With limited “real estate” with which to develop ideas and characters, a successful Short Story author must be highly disciplined and well practiced.  Short stories are difficult to sell as the number of magazines which accept them has dropped to almost none.  Those that still do accept them usually look for well-known writers.  They typically publish only a few per year, and the waiting list is very long.  Recompense for single short stories is typically in the area of pennies per word.

Novellas are demarked primarily by their length.  A novella has the room for sub-plots, and allows for the development of one or two characters.

Novels, again, determined primarily by length.  A novel allows for multiple sub-plots, and can support the development of a multitude of characters and situations.


Document Lengths
Type Average #
Approx. pages,
Short-short story 500-2,500 2-10
Short story 2,500-5,000 10-20
Novelette 7,000-25,000 28-100
Novella 17,500-40,000 70-160
Novel–paperback 35,000-80,000 140-320
Novel–hard cover 25,000-150,000 100-600
Humor feature 300-800 2-4
Op-Ed 500-1,000 2-5
Book review 400-1,000 2-5
Newspaper feature 800-3,000 4-12
Magazine article 2,000-5,000 8-20
Nonfiction book 20,000-200,000 80-800
Cookbook 10,000-200,000 40-800
Juvenile picture book 500-1500 (varies)
Juvenile book–mid 3,000-25,000 12-100
Young adult book 15,000-80,000 60-320
Poem 2-100 lines
(4-16 lines preferred)
Play: one act 20-30 minutes 20-30 playing time
Play: three act 1 1/2 – 2 hours 90-120 playing time
TV script 1/2 hour 25-40
TV script 1 hour 55-70
Movie scenario 1 1/2 – 2 hours 120-250 playing time
Radio feature copy 15 ds lines = 1 minute
3 min = 2 pages
Public Service Announcement 45 wds = 20 sec
90 wds = 40 sec
one page; all caps
Speech 250 words = 2 minutes
12-15 pages = 1/2 hour
Book Proposal outline/summary; (varies) sample chapter(s)
Query Letter 200-500 1-2 full pages; single-spaced

Note: These lengths are approximate, and other sources will differ with these conclusions.