16 March 2016

That's a long story... or is it?

by Robert Lopresti

Recently I told a friend that I had just finished  a story, and it was 6,500 words.   She replied: how long is that?

I was tempted to say: 6,500 words long.  But I know what she meant.  Why would she know how many words make a short story, a novella, or War and Peace?

And that got me thinking,  with the following result.  I hope it informs or entertains you.  At least it may kill the time while you wait for the barista to finish your double tall skinny caramel cappuccino with shea butter and bacon drippings.

In the box below are the titles of fifty famous short stories by American authors.  I am not saying they are the best stories or best authors (and let's not go down that rabbit hole in the comments) but they are on enough best-of lists for various genres that I assume most literate Americans have read a lot of them.

So here is my challenge.  Check the list below and make note of the stories you think you know well.  At the very least, pick two.  Then ask yourself: Which is longer?  

 Further down the page, where you will find out their actual (approximate) lengths.  I was surprised to find out that one is flash fiction (fewer than 1,000 words).  I was astonished by the Crane and Hammett stories; I would have bet money on the shorter tale being the longer one.  Here you go:


A&P - John Updike
"All You Zombies--" - Robert A. Heinlein
Bartleby the Scrivener - Herman Melville
The Beast in the Jungle -  Henry James
Bernice Bobs her Hair - F. Scott  Fitzgerald
Big Blonde - Dorothy Parker
The Call of Cthulu - H. P. Lovecraft
The Cask of Amontillado - Edgar Allan Poe
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County -Mark Twain
Chrysanthemums - John Steinbeck
Everyday Use - Alice Walker
Gift of Cochise - Louis L'Amour   
Gift of the Magi - O. Henry
Gimpel the Fool - Isaac Bashevis Singer
A Good Man is Hard to Find - Flannery O'Connor
The Golem  - Avram Davidson
The Gutting of Couffignal - Dashiell Hammett
Haircut - Ring Lardner
Harrison Bergeron - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
I Stand Here Ironing  - Tillie Olsen
I'll Be Waiting - Raymond Chandler
The Jilting of Granny Weatherall - Katherine Anne Porter
A Jury of her Peers - Susan Glaspell
The Killers - Ernest Hemingway
The Lady, or the Tiger - Frank Stockton
Lamb to the Slaughter - Roald Dahl

The Last Question - Isaac Asimov
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow -  Washington Irving
The Lottery - Shirley Jackson
The Luck of Roaring Camp - Bret Harte
An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge - Ambrose Bierce
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas - Ursula K. LeGuin
The Open Boat - Stephen Crane
Paul's Case - Willa Cather
Pigs is Pigs -  Ellis Parker Butler
Roman Fever - Edith Wharton
A Rose for Emily - William Faulkner
The School - Donald Barthelme
The Secret life of Walter Mitty - James Thurber
The Sound of Thunder - Ray Bradbury
Stage to Lordsburg - Ernest Haycox
The Story of an Hour - Kate Chopin
The Swimmer - John Cheever
Thank You Ma'am - Langston Hughes
They Do Not Always Remember - William S. Burroughs
To Build a Fire - Jack London
The Use of Force - William Carlos Williams
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - Raymond Carver
Where Are You Going,  Where Have You Been? - Joyce Carol Oates
Young Goodman Brown - Nathaniel Hawthorne

To discourage you from sneaking down the page and checking the answers without deciding which of two stories are longer, I am putting in these lovely crows to block the view.  Sorry, no ravens were available.

Made your decisions about lengths?  Okay, here are the numbers:


Approximately 600 words
They Do Not Always Remember - William S. Burroughs
 
Approximately 1,000 words
The Story of an Hour - Kate Chopin

Approximately 1,200 words
The School - Donald Barthelme

Approximately 1,300 words
Thank You Ma'am - Langston Hughes

Approximately 1,500 words
Gimpel the Fool - Isaac Bashevis Singer

Approximately 1,600 words
The Golem  - Avram Davidson 
The Use of Force - William Carlos Williams

Approximately 2,100 words
Gift of the Magi - O. Henry
The Secret life of Walter Mitty - James Thurber

Approximately 2,200 words
Harrison Bergeron - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Approximately 2,400 words
The Cask of Amontillado - Edgar Allan Poe

Approximately 2,600 words
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County -  Mark Twain
 
Approximately 2,700 words
The Lady, or the Tiger - Frank Stockton

Approximately 2,800 words
A&P - John Updike
The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas - Ursula K. LeGuin
Approximately 3,000 words
The Killers - Ernest Hemingway

 Approximately 3,400 words
I Stand Here Ironing  - Tillie Olsen
Pigs is Pigs -  Ellis Parker Butler

 Approximately 3,600 words
Everyday Use - Alice Walker

Approximately 3,700 words
A Rose for Emily - William Faulkner

Approximately 3,800 words
The Lottery - Shirley Jackson
An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge - Ambrose Bierce 

Approximately 3,900 words
The Jilting of Granny Weatherall - Katherine Anne Porter
Lamb to the Slaughter - Roald Dahl

Approximately 4,100 words
The Luck of Roaring Camp - Bret Harte

MEDIAN - Half the stories are shorter than this; half are longer.
 
Approximately 4,200 words
Chrysanthemums - John Steinbeck

Approximately 4,400 words
The Last Question - Isaac Asimov
The Sound of Thunder - Ray Bradbury

Approximately 4,800 words
"All You Zombies--" - Robert A. Heinlein 

Approximately 4,900 words
Roman Fever - Edith Wharton

Approximately 5,000 words
Haircut - Ring Lardner
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love - Raymond Carver

Approximately 5,100 words
Gift of Cochise - Louis L'Amour
The Swimmer - John Cheever

Approximately 5,200 words
Young Goodman Brown - Nathaniel Hawthorne

Approximately 5,500 words
I'll Be Waiting - Raymond Chandler

Approximately 6,500 words
A Good Man is Hard to Find - Flannery O'Connor
Stage to Lordsburg - Ernest Haycox

Approximately 7,100 words
To Build A Fire - Jack London
Where Are You Going,  Where Have You Been? - Joyce Carol Oates

Approximately 7,600 words
The Gutting of Couffignal - Dashiell Hammett

Approximately 7,600 words
A Jury of Her Peers - Elizabeth Glaspell

 
Approximately 8,200 words
Paul's Case - Willa Cather

 Approximately 8,600 words
 Big Blonde - Dorothy Parker

Approximately 8,900 words
Bernice Bobs her Hair - F. Scott  Fitzgerald

Approximately 9,400 words
The Open Boat - Stephen Crane 

Approximately 11,800 words
 The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - Washington Irving

Approximately 11,900 words
 The Call of Cthulu - H.P. Lovecraft 
 
Approximately 14,500 words
 Bartleby the Scrivener - Herman Melville

 Approximately 19,000 words
The Beast in the Jungle - Henry James

10 comments:

Travis Richardson said...

I thought The Lottery was shorter as well as the Open Boat.

Anonymous said...

OK, "Bernice Bobs Her Hair" floored me. I would never have guessed it was that long. Wow. (It sure doesn't seem it, remembering.)

janice law said...

Love the illustrations!
I do think how much one likes the story determines length. I always found Young Goodman Brown short; my students, on the other hand, would have put it in the very long category.

Robert Lopresti said...

I thought the Hammett story, which I love, was a novella. He packed a lot in. Notice that Asimov, Bradbury, and Heinlein all cluster together?

Eve Fisher said...

Haircut and Young Goodman Brown are almost the same length, which is interesting. And I always thought the Cask of Amontillado was MUCH shorter than that - almost flash fiction.

John Floyd said...

I seemed to remember several of these being shorter than they actually are: "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," "The Swimmer," "A Sound of Thunder," "The Lottery," "To Build a Fire," etc. For some reason, a few of the others--"Walter Mitty," "The Killers," "A Rose for Emily," seem longer than they really are.

Interesting column!

Anonymous said...

"Notice that Asimov, Bradbury, and Heinlein all cluster together?" Robert, do you think that reflects the market/magazine guidelines for sci-fi at that time? Or do you think it's due to some other underlying thing they shared?

Robert Lopresti said...

Anon, my guess is it is pure coincidence. But someone needs to to their doctorate dissertation on it to be sure.

Leigh Lundin said...

Rob, I tried a few and didn't do too badly. Nice challenge!

Tye Robinson said...

The lottery is my favorite one and indeed it seems shorter. Engaging post! Recently tried luck in lottery myself, in that huge Powerball raffle at WinTrillions review. That wasn't my day!