What is fiction?

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We hope you’ve been enjoying our back-to-basics posts about different literary terms and forms. This week, I thought I would take a deep dive into fiction–specifically, different lengths of fiction and what each of them means. 

What is fiction?

First, fiction is prose that describes imaginary or invented characters, incidents, and even worlds. We know that fiction has to have certain characteristics, but you can achieve those different characteristics in a variety of lengths. Just to recap, fiction must have an inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. How you do that and how large or small those events are is up to you. There also needs to be some kind of character development,  either emotional development or it could even be regression. Either forward or backward, the character has to have some kind of development. 

So once we have those basic ideas down, we can talk about the different lengths of fiction that you can write. 

Types of fiction

The first type of fiction is what we call microfiction. This is up to 100 words, so this is a very short, powerful punch of a story. But don't get this confused with prose poems. They may look similar in length, and there may be characters in both; but in microfiction, you still need to have that nod to the story arc. So microfiction is up to 100 words and the market for this is growing. It's actually very hard to do because not only are you trying to develop a story in such a short amount of time, but you also have to think like a poet. Every word matters when you only get 100 words.

The next category is flash fiction, sometimes called short-shorts. Flash fiction is going to be between 100 and 1000 words. These are generally found in magazines because they don't take up that much space, so magazines are more likely to publish them. This is the type of piece where the reader should only have to turn the page once to get the full arc of the story.

Next, we have short stories, usually found in anthologies, literary journals, or textbooks. Short stories are going to be 1,000 to 7500 words. If you are going to be submitting your pieces anywhere, make sure you check the submission guidelines because most places cap between 2,500 and 4,000 words.

Then we have a novella, which is becoming a very popular format. Novellas tend to move easier from the written word to the screen and come in between 20,000 to 50,000 words. You could go a little bit shorter and it would be a novelette, but it’s an uncommon form.

Finally, we have the novel, which has 50,000 to 110,000 words or longer. Publishers tend to like about 70-90,000 words if you're doing general fiction, a little bit shorter if you're doing young adult or romance.

A short fiction writing exercise

Make your best attempt at a microfiction piece about a missing deck of cards, a flooded creek, a burnt pie, or some other small incident that you can dilate and build a 100-word story around, using some of the hallmark elements of longer fiction–an inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution–to create that necessary story arc. In short, create a problem or some kind of tension, and don’t forget imagery. Show us as much as you can in a small amount of space–and feel free to share it with us in the comments here or on our social media shares of this post.

Related reading: What is memoir?

What is a prose poem?

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