Among the first technical terms you come across when you start writing, are those relating to the size of the works. It’s always useful to know how to name your work properly, whether you want to present your manuscript to a publisher, self-publish your book or take part in a literary contest. To know the connotation of what you create is always a sign of professionalism and confidence, and it keeps one in control of the workflow.
Let's start by saying that there are no absolute truths and standard criteria to define the various categories. They can vary according to editorial choices, customs, points of view. However, we can get a rough idea to gain a mental category relating to the length of the texts: depending on the extent of the text, it is possible to classify and give a proper name to each work. So "Short Story", "Novelette", "Novella", "Novel" what are they and what’s the difference between them?
Short Story A "short story" usually means a work between 10,000 and circa 40,000 characters or under 7,500 words Below 8,000 it could be considered a "very short story" and above 40,000 characters it crosses over into the territories of the long story: the novelette
"Sometimes they come back" by Stephen King could represent an example of a short story.
Novelette This category stands in a middle ground between the short story and the novella. It is usually a text between 40,000 and 95,000 characters or over 7,500 words and under 17,500. This length allows to structure the story and characters in more depth, while remaining within crossing the boundaries of the novella.
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson can be considered a novelette
Novella As the name may suggest, this is a longer work than a novelette, but shorter than a classic novel. The number of characters ranges approximately between 95,000 to 215,000 or from 17,500 to 40,000 words. A text with this extent gives the possibility to narrate in a more complete and deep way not only the characters but as well their emotions and the scenarios.
N.B: It’s not only the length that distinguishes a novelette or a story from a novel, but as well the structure. The novella can be considered as a novel, in reason of the structural complexity which it has and which links it to the novel more than a novelette or a short story.
“No one writes to the colonel” by Gabriel García Márquez is a novella
Despite the lack of absolute clarity, the length of the work can define the boundaries between novellas and novels. As already said novellas are to be included in the macro-world of novels so we could say that over the 215,000 characters or 40,000 words one could classify everything as novel -of course respecting the complexity of the structure-.
The borders between categories are not rules carved in stone, but a rather blurred guideline to know where one is. To have a compass for describing the work and giving a name and a tag to something for which one writes for countless hours. Categories help us writers to better understand what we’re doing and how we could proceed. At the end of the day, whatever category you’re going to dedicate your time to, there is only one thing that really matters: keep writing! Keep creating stories!