Work Types Proposal

@sound.and.vision’s glorious reviews aside, I don’t think we intend BB to document everything that has been posted to the Internet.

If there is no further objection, I’ll open a JIRA issue to propose implementing the current list of work types. Of course the intention is that new work types can be suggested, discussed and added in the future.

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In English, there is the type “novelette” which, as far as I know, has no exact equivalent in other languages. So we have to decide whether to use “short story” or “novella” for it. I had a discussion about this some time ago with a user who is unfortunately no longer here.
We came to the conclusion that “short story” is the better choice, as it corresponds to the usage in most other languages.
But of course it is always a difficult thing with such a “transition zone”.
Do you have any ideas for a good solution?
Maybe a super-type “short fiction” that will stay as type, if a user is unsure?

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It’s good that you mentioned the novelette issue because it’s bound to come up again. I looked into it when I first prepared this list and came to the conclusion it doesn’t belong here because:

  1. It’s only used in English, and then again usually only as a category of literary awards for genre fiction.
  2. Even in English it has no definite definition, most dictionaries define it as synonym of novella, or specifically an “unserious” novella or short novel.

See, for example, the definitions of the most influential English dictionaries:

(The definition for novella sense 2 being “a work of fiction intermediate in length and complexity between a short story and a novel”.)

(The definition for novella being also “A short novel.”)

Actually, my opinion is that we should pick neither “short story” nor “novella” for these cases. I think we should have clearly defined work types and, if a work doesn’t fit any more specific type, we should pick the more general type that applies. If we can’t call it definitely a “short story” or a “novella”, it should be simply “fiction”. That is actually why I’m suggesting the Fiction type, because there will always be works that will always be sort of “in between” types. The “transition zone”, as you say.

I think “novelette”, with its undefinable nature, belongs to a future Folksonomy tag system. People can tag works that are called by their authors or critics novelettes with the novelette tag. It can be useful as a tag, but I don’t think it should be a work type.

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That won’t work for all languages I’m afraid.
In German, for example, there is the type of “Erzählung”, which can denote both a novel and a novella. I think such “inaccuracies” can be found in many languages.

Yes, if we don’t want to use the term “short fiction”, just “fiction” is the best solution.

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It is true we may find issues like this, but we can also have language-specific work types. There will be Chinese and Japanese poetic forms that only apply to those languages, but as long as they can be clearly defined, and I would have no problem with adding those forms as work types. And the same would apply to German or other European languages. I can’t say specifically for your example, of course. The issue with novelette is that there is no clear definition for it — worse, there are incompatible or ambiguous definitions. It’s possible that in the future more authors will start to publish novelettes, and this becomes a more common and recognizable type. If this happened, we could probably have a good definition. I just don’t see that being the case now.

To be clear, I don’t have anything in principle against a short fiction type. But then we will have the same issue again… What would it be, short stories and novelettes? But we don’t even have a definition for novelette. Anything shorter than a novel? I feel this would essentially be a “not sure” category. But this is exactly the kind of thing I was trying to avoid, a vague category. That’s why I think if we can’t be sure we should go with fiction, a specific category that applies.

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No, “short fiction” would be a “super-type”, which comprises all types smaller than a novel - from novella to short prose. The distinction from the novel would be the same as it is currently between a novella and a novel.

Vollbildaufzeichnung 02.04.2023 172911

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Thanks for drawing me a picture, but I understood what you said (I swear!). My point was that if X is problematic because it is hard to define, then X+Y will have the same issue. Here’s why I disagree your Short Prose suggestion would be a good idea:

  • It’s an ad hoc category that doesn’t exist anywhere — I don’t think we should create types like this, ideally we should only add well-defined and easily recognized work types.
  • It’s an arbitrary subcategory. If I understand correctly, this would be a category of any fiction work that is not a novel (or novel-length). We could as easily have a category for any work that is longer than a short story, including novellas and novels, but this kind of arbitrary subcategorization doesn’t add anything.
  • You call this category short fiction, but novellas (and maybe novelettes) are generally considered medium-length. So this category would be short- and medium-length fiction (or non-novel length fiction?).
  • “Short fiction” is usually synonymous with short story, using the term here would be very confusing.
  • Maybe more importantly, it seems to me this is trying to escape the more general classification. I feel the same way, we want to be as specific as possible, and just “fiction” feels lacking; but there is nothing wrong with the more general category, and should get used to the idea that many works will have to have a general category (fiction, nonfiction, poem), otherwise we end up creating arbitrary categories just to fit them somewhere.

Having said this, I don’t want to be a gatekeeper, if most people agree this would be a good idea, I am willing to add it to the list above — against my better judgement.

The problem with so few people joining in the conversation is that if two people disagree, it can easily become an argument rather than an open discussion. Unless more people agree your proposed type should be added, I propose leaving it for now, you can always suggest latter again, hopefully we will have more participation in the BB threads sooner or later.

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Well, yes and no. I took the idea from ISFDB where it is used as a type:

yes, that’s my interpretation of the term

Yes, but the term could be explained

Indeed, but that’s why I made this proposal. As I mentioned before, in other languages there are many types you can’t translate into “short story” or “novella”. I’m just adding a German translation of “The First Wife And Other Stories” by Pearl S. Buck. (are stories = short stories"?) The German title is “Die erste Frau und andere Novellen”. The German term “Novelle” can’t be accurately translated. Could be a “novella” or a short story or a short novel (= another German term “Kurzroman”).
Your proposal means, that in any case, where German terms like “Erzählung” or “Novelle” appears I will have to use “fiction” if I don’t want to guess.
That’s ok, but it feels unsatisfying.

Agreed, we will not be able to find solutions for problems that are controversial at the moment.
And we don’t have to, fortunately :wink:

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Thanks for the great work @blackteadarkmatter !
The work types look like a great improvement to the existing ones.
No doubt they will evolve over time, but this is a great starting point!

My two cents:
In my opinion the category of “short fiction” (regardless of the name we decide to give it) does make sense. It is a useful distinction from novels that is traditionally made, even though the terms and definitions thereof vary between cultures and time periods.

While it may be a broad category, with no precise definition, it does encapsulate a category of works that usually have a different structure and rhythm compared to a novel; it’s not all about the word count. (This would match the term “nouvelle” in french, where the definition hinges more on structure than length; short story, novelette and novella would all be nouvelle in french).

I would add that the same is true of the term “novel”; it is a useful category even though it is broad and hard to define with precision.

As for the name “short fiction”, I think “short” is to be taken as “shorter than a novel”, which itself does not have a set definition of length. As long as both are arbitrary we’re in the clear, right? :thinking:

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P.S: I love how our cultural differences and the names used in our mother tongues both add confusion the discussion but also a wider, more informed point of view.

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Sorry, I meant to reply earlier, but only found the time now. I thought it was interesting when you mentioned ISFDB, so I did my homework and checked their guidelines. These are the relevant bits:

It’s nice that they are this specific, but the idea that there are two types of fiction (novel and “shortfiction”) and that short story, novelette, and novella are lengths of “shortfiction” (and measured by the word) is very much an ISFDB definition — a great site, but only one DB of only one genre of fiction —, it’s really not what these words mean more widely — and we intend to have a very wide scope.

I think we should define all terms clearly, but we shouldn’t use a definition that is incompatible with its common meaning. Short fiction is generally synonymous with short story, defining as anything else is not helpful.

Almost certainly, yes. “Better known short story title and other stories” is a common title for short stories collections. But the work type isn’t defined by the title of the book. It can say stories, short stories, tales, legends, fables… And different books can have different titles. Short stories are short stories, no matter the title of the book or in which language they are translated.

As I’ve said before, there can be language-specific work types, that is something we can discuss — let’s leave that for later, please, with specific examples —, but a translation of a short story is still a short story.

This feeling is something I share, but I think we need to accept it. The way for work types to be useful is for us to define them clearly, and only use them when there is no doubt. That sometimes means just going with “fiction”. And sometimes not even that: I added a work that famously “unclassifiable”, part novel, part non-fiction. I don’t like seeing it type-less, but I don’t think there is any way around it. There will always be works that are sui generis, that don’t fit anywhere, we have to accept that.


While I still don’t like it, as I said my goal here isn’t to impose my opinion, so I’ve been thinking about how to implement your suggestion. Given @mr_monkey’s support, and because I really think we shouldn’t muddy the waters by calling it “short fiction”, the best I can come up with is calling this work type short-form fiction, defined as such:

  • short-form fiction: Prose narrative of limited complexity and length, too short to be considered a novel.
    • Short story — Prose narrative that is shorter than a novel or novella and that usually deals with only a few characters.
    • Novella — Prose narrative whose length is shorter and less complex than most novels, but longer and more complex than most short stories.

Let me know what you think.

In theory, we could also add a long-form fiction, but it would include only the novel type, so I think it would be unnecessary.

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I think this works quite well, thanks !

We could consider adding flash fiction as another subtype of short-form fiction.

Flash fiction is generally used as an umbrella term that refers to super short fiction of 1,000 words or less, but still provides a compelling story with a plot (beginning, middle, and end), character development, and usually a twist or surprise ending. The exact length of flash fiction isn’t set, but is determined by the publisher.
From: Short Fiction Forms: Novella, Novelette, Short Story, and Flash Fiction Defined - Identifying Your Genre - Fiction - Author Learning Center

There are sub-sub-types thereof (short short fiction, sudden fiction, postcard fiction, microfiction/nanofiction, drabble, etc.) but I don’t think we need to go to that level of detail.

@indy133, does this work for you? I’m asking because the request for this type came from you…

I don’t have anything against this, but I’m imposing a moratorium on new types. For months now, whenever the list looks usable someone comes with a suggestion for a new type, and I try to accommodate it (or argue against it) and everything repeats again. If I keep doing this, no work type will ever be added… So, if Indy is happy with this, — and no one else has anything against it, — I suggest just implementing the types we have now. Of course, we can also discuss and add new work types after these are available in BB.

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Yes, I totally understand. I’m happy to add the work types as discussed, with or without flash fiction.
We can always adjust the list later as you said.

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Yes, sure…looks fine to me, thx :wink:

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I updated the list to include the short-form fiction type. If there is no opposition to the types that we currently have here, I will create a JIRA issue to request implementing the new types soon.

Update: I finally created the issue.

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I’ve made some good progress on the topic !

The SQL script to update existing and add new work types is completed and ready to be deployed.

I wanted to improve the work type select dropdown before doing that to reflect the new hierarchy and the descriptions.

Please take a look and let me know what you think:

In particular how do you feel about the tooltip with the description appearing on hover (after a small delay)?

The arrow-like icons on the left are the product of this discussion regarding similar hierarchical dropdown lists in MusicBrainz: [MBS-12866] Make grouping relationship types more visible in dropdowns - MetaBrainz JIRA

Feedback welcome !

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This looks greatastic! It’s actually better than I was thinking — the tooltip is a great idea, that way you don’t have to select different types to compare.

I would still like to see the description after selecting, so that the users can see their choice before submitting. Or maybe that’s unnecessary, I don’t know. But, really, as shown in your image, it already looks fantastic to me.

Just one thing: Novel is in the wrong place, it should be under Fiction, not Short-form fiction. I don’t know if this is just a mock-up you made manually; if so, it doesn’t really matter.

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Great to hear :slight_smile:

I was wondering the same, should we have the description somewhere around the dropdown? But it seemed perhaps unnecessary, and probably means we would start doing that for every such dropdown.
I think instead a “?” button that links to a yet-to-be-created page that lists all types along with their description would be better.

And I did catch and fix that issue with Novel being at the wrong level, just didn’t bother updating it yet on my local database.

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I think even better might be a hoverable button like MusicBrainz has for some relationships (I think it’s URL relationships?). that way you can see what it means without opening a whole new page, though it could be clickable too, if desired…

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