I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the distinction between these two forms, and I suspect that a lot of the stories people consider short stories would technically be novelettes. For example, most of the stories in Clive Barker’s story anthology the Books of Blood run around 10-12k words. Technically these would be novelettes by Duotrope’s standards, but I suspect most people still think of them as short stories, and that’s how they are described on Wikipedia.
As a writer, it seems to me that there is a world of difference between a ceiling of 7500 words and an upper limit of 15k though. In modern parlance, the short story seems to be one or two scenes, whereas a novelette can start to develop more.
I’m curious how others approach these two story types. Are novelettes just shorty stories whose premises were too long? Or do you set out to write one or the other?
Personally, I wouldn’t get hung up on such definitions.
“For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn” is described as the world’s shortest short story. It’s also described as the world’s shortest novel. But, like the validity of its attribution to Ernest Hemingway, the difference between the two - it seems to me - is zilch.
To the extent that there is any validity to the distinction between the short story and the novelette (or novella), it seems to me that it has much less to do with word-count and much more to do with change. In a short story, there’s little or no time or space for the characters to change; if there is change, it may simply be change in the perceptions of the reader. That’s certainly true of many of the 20th-century short stories that I’ve read; many climax with a “reveal to the reader” of some kind. The novella, on the other hand, has more room for the characters to change - for character arcs, in other words.
I guess I’m interested in how one sits down to write and ends up with either a short story, a novelette, or a novella. I often sit down to write a short story and end up with a novelette instead. Is this a fault on my choice of subject matter for the medium I’m trying to work with, or is this just part of the normal writing process?
As you noted, this often comes down to a matter of marketing, but novelettes are harder to market than short stories. I think the hardest part about short stories is judging the length.
I guess that depends on how one sits down to write.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, I’m not trying to obtuse. Even if you’ve never read a book on writing and only had the evidence of these forums to go on , it quickly becomes clear that different people approach writing in different ways. To use the language commonly used here on the forums, some writers are “plotters” and some are “pantsers”. The distinction helps to increase awareness of the variety of approaches to writing as I suspect that many (if not most) of us are somewhere in between the pantser/plotter extremes. It seems there is no “normal”. Which is good to know because there’s nothing normal about choosing to write about an event that never happened — that is, in effect, a lie — and that everyone knows is false but you hope will read it anyway. We’re mad, so may as well be mad in our own unique ways…
Sounds like it’s a normal part of your writing process.
But you could mix it up. Some of my favourite writing exercises are sticking to a fixed word count (exactly 10 words, exactly 50 words, no more than 500 words, etc). It’s sometimes surprising the choices that get made when given such strict restrictions.
Or you could practice retelling parts of the same story in different word lengths e.g. edit/rewrite down from 25,000 words to 15,000, or from 15,000 to 10,000, or 5,000, or 500. How many different stories can be told from the one short story? Which story, from within a story, is the story (and is there such a thing)?