When Size Matters: Story Terminology as Determined by Word Count

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Title: When Size Matters: Story Terminology as Determined by Word Count
Creator: Rana Eros
Date(s): September 6, 2004
Medium: online
Fandom:
Topic: Fanfiction
External Links: When Size Matters: Story Terminology as Determined by Word Count, Archived version/WebCite
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Contents

When Size Matters: Story Terminology as Determined by Word Count is an essay by Rana Eros.

It is part of the Fanfic Symposium series.

Excerpts

Definitions drift with usage and words take on new meanings, but usually it's because there's not already a perfectly serviceable word that means what the user wants. Well, in the case of stories 500 words and under, there is. In the case of stories 1000 words and under, there is. In the case of stories 17500 words and under, there is, and I'm going to give you those terms now.

A drabble is a story of exactly 100 words. It's debatable as to whether or not the title is included (the common definition I've seen allows for one to fifteen extra words for the title), but the limit itself is not debatable. A drabble and a half is exactly 150 words. A double drabble is 200 words, and anything over that really stops being a drabble, but in fandom, any story in increments of 50 words is often still referred to as some permutation of drabble, ie double drabble and a half, triple drabble, triple drabble and a half, quad-drabble, etc. Even in fandom, however, the key is that your word count is exactly on that 50 word increment mark. Otherwise, you are not writing a drabble of any kind.

So what are you writing? Well, in the pro lit world, any story under 500 words is flash fiction. It's a term that used to be widely-used in fandom as well, but I think the influx of fans who didn't first pass through sf lit fandom or come from some other area of the pro lit world has negatively impacted both knowledge and use of the term. So, if you didn't know the term before, here it is. When discussing fic under 500 words that is not exactly 100 words, the term you want is flash fiction. Or even flashfic, or minute fic, or sudden fic, postcard fic, fast fic, quick fic, and a few others. Flashfic is the most common and well-known, but there are a few alternatives. The point is, none of those alternatives are drabble.

Fic that is over 500 words, but under 1000, is generally known as a short short. Some magazines and anthologies actually use short short and flash fiction interchangeably, because of space constraints, but in online fandom, we generally don't have to worry about such things. So, short short.

1000 and over, up to 17500, is a short story. It doesn't matter if it's not as long as you personally prefer, it is still a full-fledged, honest-to-god, bona fide short story. And that's another thing. It seems like a lot of people are just defining drabble as any story that is not as long as their personal preference. No. Just no. Drabble is not a negative term, and your personal preference does not a sound basis for literary terminology make. It's like suddenly deciding to use adverb to mean any word you don't like. Not only are you going to confuse people with your usage, but you're also not doing your stance any favors by coming across as ignorant as to the actual meaning of the word.

So, just to review, 100 words [equals] drabble. 500 words and under [equals] flash fiction. 500-1000 words [equals] short short. 1000-15000 words [equals] short story. At 17500, you've ventured into novella/novelette territory (I've seen it split so that 17500 to 25000 is a novella, and 25000 to 40000 is a novelette. I have also seen it split the other direction. Generally, the two terms are used interchangeably). At 40000, congratulations, you have yourself a novel.

But wait! I hear you cry. What about vignettes? What about chapters? I'm so glad you asked, because now I can answer. A vignette has nothing to do with word count. Customarily, it is under 1000 words, but the significant thing about a vignette is the theme, not the word count. A vignette is meant to give new insight into a character or the relationship between two or more characters. Most vignettes don't involve a lot of action. Some of them also don't involve a lot of dialogue. The important thing is the illumination of character or relationship. That's what a vignette is all about.