Writing a story isn’t as simple as it seems.
I realized this when I tried to follow of the writing advice I’d been given.
Write a short story, I was told. You’ll learn a lot, get some feedback. It’s a better way than trying to write an entire novel and then finding out it’s not any good.
But writing short stories proved to be hard for me. Much harder than writing a novel.
I wasn’t sure why.
So, I thought I’d take a look at what makes writing short stories different from writing novels.
After doing some research, I came up with nine differences.
- A short story, to state the obvious, is short. It’s generally thought to be 1,000 to 20,000 words. If your piece is between 20,000 and 40,000 or 50,000, it’s a novella. Under 1,000, and you’ve got flash fiction.
- Novels unfold their stories gradually, usually in three acts. Short stories focus on one main event.
- Novels have many characters. Some, like War and Peace have over 100. Short stories focus on one main character, with an opposing antagonist and a few supporting characters, at most. Some short stories have only one main character, and his antagonist is not human. Things like disease, weather, or the government take on that role.
- Novels can have a much longer time frame, and some cover generations. Think James Michener’s Centennial or Edward Rutherford’s Russka. A short story, by contrast, often takes place in one day.
- Novels have subplots and twists. Short stories don’t. They only have time to focus on the core conflict, with maybe a twist at the end.
- Novels often give the back story of their main characters. Short stories give very little back story. What they give is highly condensed and only what the reader absolutely needs to know.
- The pacing in short story has to be much faster than in a novel.
- Novels give the writer the time to weave more complex stories that have many facets that all work together. Short stories must stay simple and focused on the main event.
- Novels usually has more meaning and can delve deeply into a theme. Short stories may have a theme, but only one aspect of it is displayed.
Maybe this explains why I enjoy reading novels much more than short stories. With a novel, you can get immersed in the plot and characters. I love the complexity and the subplots. With a story, it seems you’ve just gotten into it and it’s over.
And maybe this explains why I have a hard time writing short stories. My mind goes to the complex rather than the simple. That “focus on one core conflict” is hard for me to do. I just can’t stick to one idea.
Which do you like better, either to read or to write?