How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: the 6 key fiction forms


Welcome to Part Twenty-Two of this popular series. This week, novelist and publisher Lucy McCarraher looks at the six key forms of fiction you can write and how they should be handled … how they differ, and what their main characteristics are.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar on the right —>>>

How to write fiction without the fuss

Forms of fiction

As you have been following this How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss series, what form of fiction have you been, or are you considering, writing?

Prose fiction is usually divided into six categories, based on length. Why, you might ask, is there any need to classify your story according to its wordage; it’s the creative process that matters first, followed by the enjoyment readers get from it, neither of which is dependent on the number of pages that have been filled or turned.

The answer is that even if you are writing purely for your own pleasure, inspiration is best channelled through the perspiration of form and structure. And if you are hoping for an audience, let alone representation and/or publication, you are more likely to find them by writing within the familiar forms that readers seek and publishers provide.

Flash Fiction,as its name suggests, is very short fiction. There is no widely accepted definition of the length, but some markets make 300 words the maximum while others go up to 2,000 words. Paper publication of flash fiction stories is rare, but there are growing numbers of dedicated internet sites and zines, such as , which run frequent competitions and publish winners.

The Short Story may be the most ancient form of fiction, originating in the oral tradition. Short stories are the most popular form of fiction competitions, and literary organisations and publishers request maximum lengths that can vary between 500 and 7,500 words. More generally, a short story is defined as between 2,000 words and 7,500 words. Short stories follow the same overall structure as longer fiction forms, but will probably minimise the central second act to a single, or two at most, reversals.

Short story anthologies by well-known writers are occasionally published, but rarely succeed commercially. Self-publishing and e-book publication, though, are offering a new market for short story writers, either in anthologies or even single stories.

“A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.”
Lorrie Moore

The term Novelette applies to a narrative work of prose fiction that is longer than a short story and shorter than a novella. That description makes it a story of at least 7,500 words but under 17,500 words. It can also, though, be used to refer to a short novella, especially one with a trivial or sentimental theme.

Novelettes are rarely traditionally published these days, but two long-standing awards for science fiction novelettes are the Hugo Awards and the Nebula Awards.

A Novella, then, is a work of at least 17,500 words but under 50,000 words. It too will generally feature fewer conflict points (or reversals) than a novel, but have a more complex plot than a short story. Unlike novels, novellas are not usually divided into chapters, and were once intended for reading at a single sitting. The shorter novella sticks with a main plot and a single point of view, but often has well developed characters and rich description.

You might be surprised to realise how many classic and famous works are novellas rather novels. A few are: John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, George Orwell’s Animal Farm, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Isaac Asimov’s Nightfall, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Stephen King’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

As you can see from even this small selection, the novella form has long been favoured by writers of science fiction, futuristic and fantasy fiction. Novellas in these genres, and the sub-genre of steampunk, are currently thriving, especially in e-book form. There are Hugo and Nebula awards for novellas, along with others for fantasy, mystery, romance and literary fiction.

Robert Silverberg, in the introduction to the novella anthology, Sailing to Byzantium, said:

“(The novella) is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms… it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.”

The Novel is, of course, the longest and most complex and perennially popular form of prose fiction, of 50,000 words or more. If you are trying to sell a first novel to an agent or publisher, 80,000 words is a good length to aim for, unless you are writing an Epic, in which case you will have to hit or pass the 200,000 word mark.

Epics are most often historical novels, like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind and Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago; generational family stories (John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds); or epic fantasies, such as J R R Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and George R R Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

Whatever length you plan your story, or the word count you reach by the end of it, try to ensure it fits the criteria and structure of the appropriate form, and seek the readership and means of publication most suited to it.

Next week we will look at the other axis of fiction format: genre.

For all the articles in the series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher


Managing Editor, Rethink Press.


Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English … INSTANT DOWNLOAD now available!
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here