How many words make a novel? It's an age-old question. I have done a seriously ridiculous amount of research and have the definitive answer for how many words in a short story, novella, novel, and everything else.
We start where everyone always starts, with Wikipedia. The four-part breakdown is pretty simple. Short story to 7,500 words, novelette to 17,500, novella to 40,000, and beyond that is a novel.
But wait, that same source says short stories have at least 3,500 words. Anything between 1,000 and 3,499 has just fallen into a forbidden void. That's dangerous, because nature and writers alike abhor a vacuum.
There's still some void, but it's small and containable.
A long-short is just as problematic. Using the writer's favorite tool, creative synonyms, we could call it a big short. Big Short? That's a movie! It was a book first, but with all respect to author Michael Lewis the most famous name here is Christian Bale.
But that presents a logical problem, with two different lengths both called "flash". We could separate them into microflash and macroflash, but with that perfect Goldilocks zone in the middle, literary history calls out for Mama Bear Flash and Papa Bear Flash. For consistency, we also have to dump the reference to McSweeney's in favor of baby bear (we can't name the just right length after Goldilocks; she's a burglar and a thief).
Shorter than that and you don't have a story, you have a byline. As for 1-2 words, frankly, you're staring at a screen, trying to figure out how to start. You've got writer's block.
After 6, we get into a murky area. You've got a couple handfuls of syllables, but you haven't gone very far. Up to, say, 17 words, it's probably just a haiku. It's not a sure thing, but wise gambler takes the best odds.
As everyone knows, books are metric. That gives us an important milestone at 100,000+. And finally, if we've gone past 120,000, we're definitely into fantasy (or rarely sci-fi) epic territory.
By the time you've reached 350k, you have clearly (and coincidentally, since this famous author's top 7 longest novels roughly average this length) written the Dickens out of a book.
When we reach the length of "Gone with the Wind" I think it is frankly safe to say we have given a Damn.
Beyond that, and I admit I'm getting tired here so I'm going to stop with the fancy naming and just let the titles speak for themselves, there are several clear roadmarks.
Then there is a saying, sort of like Gladwell's somewhat debunked 10,000 hour rule that a writer's first million words are practice. Once you hit that, it's go time.
In summary, the final, definitive, universal, totally accurate and un-arguable for all time list of how many words does it take to have a short story, novel, or any other kind of non-poetic (except haiku) literary work:
Wait, sorry. I have clearly made some mistakes. Kilo is 1000, and Old Mac Donald is 1000. A Kilo-Mac Donald ought to be a million. Also, I have failed to recognize the squidgy Balette space, where the Bale and the Novelette overlap. That plus a typo where flash went to 9,999. Still, every system is imperfect. It would be foolish to scrap all this hard work and start over, right?
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