When we think of fiction, we often think of novels. But just what is a novel?
Categorising fiction between short stories, novels, and novellas is about so much more than just the number of words. It’s also about genre, the story’s complexity, and character development.
Word counts vary depending on whom you ask, but the general consensus is that a novel is over 50,000 words, a short story under 20,000, and a novella anything in between.
However, this can be broken down further. And, to make matters complicated, some things overlap.
Here I’m going to explain the different types of fiction in a way that (hopefully) won’t make your head explode like mine used to (and still does sometimes).
Let’s start with the shortest!
A drabble is a piece of fiction under 100 words.
A vignette is a short, expressive piece of writing that’s less about plot and more about meaning.
A fable can be written in prose or verse. They’re generally seen as children’s stories because they focus on animals, creatures from myth and legend or anthropomorphised inanimate objects.
They often have a moral at the end, such as The Tortoise and the Hare.
Toy Story could be interpreted as a modern-day fable.
A parable is the opposite of a fable. It doesn’t use cute fluffy animals to teach you a lesson, it uses humans and is clear in its message right from the start.
Flash fiction is anything under 1000 words. This doesn’t give you much room to play around, so choose your words very wisely.
Microfiction is the same as flash fiction.
Some see a short story as anything that’s too short to be a novel, but it’s much more complicated than that.
Short stories have fewer layers to them than a novel or novella, and they focus on one moment in time, or several linked events.
They also have one narrator (with so few words it would be confusing to have more), and feature a moment of epiphany.
Long short stories and flash fiction can also be included in this category in the same way that novels and novellas can be categorised as ‘books’.
Long Short Story
A long short story is somewhere between a short story and a novella. It can have more than one narrator or point of view, but it still focuses on one moment of time or a chain of events.
A good example of a long short story is James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’. It’s much too complicated to be a short story but not complex enough to be a novel.
Some people agree with the existence of the novelette, others don’t. It depends on what your classification of short stories and novellas are.
A novelette sits somewhere between a novella and a long short story.
It will likely span a longer period of time, but may still only focus on one character or chain of events. There’s still not much room for depth or exploration here.
The length of a novella will depend on who you speak to, but most agree it’s the bridge between a novel and a short story. It has more layers than a short story but less than a novel.
A novella often focuses on character development or a character’s journey.
My favourite example of a novella of a novella is Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Of Mice and Men, and A Christmas Carol, are also examples—we go on a journey with the character(s), and throughout the course of the story they change and develop. However, it’s unlikely there will be subplots going on at the same time. If there is, it will only be one or two.
As well as the main plot of the story, a novel has several subplots happening at the same time.
For example, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone if you’re American), you have the main plot of Harry vs. Voldemort, as well as Harry’s emerging friendships with Hermione and Ron; his rivalry with Snape; his familial problems, and school life. Some of these prove to be linked later on, while others are subplots to flesh out the characters, the story, and the world overall.
Sagas tend to focus on a family or interconnected families. They focus on a series of events or changes, and they use multiple points of view.
Over to You
Well, there you have it: the different types of fiction all in one place. I hope it’s helped to clear up some of the fogginess surrounding the different types of fiction, particularly the lesser-known ones.
What are your favourite types to write and why? Do you think I’ve missed any? Join the discussion in the comments below!
If you found this post useful, why not check out the different types of poetry list?