What is the difference between flash fiction, a short story, a novelette, novella, a short novel and an epic novel? It often depends on how the author wants to characterize them, the genre of the story, or the publishers’ desires and the limits of space.

In general terms, these are the amount of words that dictate the labels.

Flash fiction = under 1,000 words

Short story = between 1,000 words and 7,500

Novelette = over 7,500 but less than 17,500

Novella = 17,501 to 40,000 words

Novel = 40,001 to 100,000

Epic novel = over 100,000

Some authors write novellas and call them short novels, or short stories and call them flash fiction. The label is slippery.

Many new writers start with flash fiction before moving to writing short stories then novellas before writing their first novel. It gives them experience and practice. All writers write to keep their brains in creative mode. As the saying goes, “Writers write.”

Some writers believe that writing short stories is easier than writing novels. The truth is that it varies by writer. One writer can create yards of sentences to quickly fill page after page of a novel, but that same writer can’t write a short story. The opposite is also true. That’s why writers need to practice. Challenge themselves every single day. It can be difficult to write short stories because there’s an average word limit. The idea of limits can be tough.

How do you write a short story but still talk about the motivation behind the main character, which influences her decisions leading up to the pivotal moment? That’s what makes writing short stories such a great writing exercise. Every line of prose must be streamlined. Extra, unnecessary words must be cut with the brutality of a surgeon cutting away dead tissue.

Writing short stories is the perfect way to hone your writing craft to a fine, laser edge. You’ll learn to cut the dead weight, and what you’ll have left is the essence and importance of the story. The defining moment of the story that carries weight and impact.

Try some mystery or dystopian writing prompts for creating great short stories.