Short Stories versus Novels

I like to consider myself a novelist. That’s what I do. I may have only published one, but that’s what my writing is geared for, writing novels.

I have been trying my hand at writing short stories for my writers’ group, mostly with prompts. I’ve posted a couple of those here on the blog, but I can’t really say I’m proud of them. I’ve been to some open mic events; both locally and out of town and the short stories I have heard a strong finish or a bite to them, a humorous sideline or some deeply thought-provoking revelation amongst the words.

I’ve also read a few anthologies of short stories and most are 2000-3000 words, succinct, concise words.

I can’t do it in less than 5000 words.

I have a short attention span and I like lots of fast action. I write like that also, a whirlwind of events, one on the heels of another.

There are some really great blogs that feature lots of short stories. Kate Loveton has short stories on her blog and does very well at humor and at making relevant points with her work in few words. Helen Midgely writes some of the best short fiction I’ve ever read. I keep encouraging them to write novels. Mark Paxon writes good introspective and meaningful short stories. They always leave me wanting to read more.

That’s what a short story should do.

I researched writing short stories and found the article by Yale University:  http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1983/3/83.03.09.x.html

It struck me as a bit too complicated.

So I looked deeper.

I found this list of the five elements of a short story:

They are true masters at combining the five key elements that go into every great short story: charactersetting, conflictplot and theme.

http://users.aber.ac.uk/jpm/ellsa/ellsa_elements.html

You could say novels are just expanded short stories as the ingredients are much the same, but are they?

My short stories are like little bitty novels.

I found this list of novel features:

  1. Concept – the central idea or proposition from which you create a landscape upon which to tell the story; weak premise, weak story…
  2. Character – checklist-driven criteria for developing backstory, arc, inner conflict and the essence of a hero’s quest…
  3. Theme – the elusive meaning of your story and how it affects readers on multiple levels; in other words, why they’ll care…
  4. Story architecture – a four-part story structure riddled with segments missions, milestones and standards that keep the story growing and moving…
  5. Scene execution – if you can’t boil water you can’t cook up a buffet; this is the crafting of efficient, tense, visceral scenes and narrative…
  6. Writing voice – the assemblage of words you summon as foot soldiers with the mission of carrying your structural strategy to victory.

It would seem that novels are more complex, but that’s not really true. I’m finding writing a short story is harder simply because you are trying to accomplish the same things in fewer words. Maybe I’m overthinking this.

When I approach writing, I tend to do it more by this list of six; except for this statement “if you can’t boil water you can’t cook up a buffet.”

I’m always cooking the buffet.

I feel it requires masterful writing and creativity to pull off a great short story. I applaud people who do it well.

It’s really a whole different style.

I approach writing the same way for short stories and novels. I’ve discovered that my story arc is the same for short stories as it is for novels. You know…you’ve seen this before.

story-arc-1

When it should probably look more like this:

Slide2

 

So, what do you think?

Is writing short stories different for you than writing novels?

Is it easier or more challenging to write the short story?

I’m finding the short story a greater challenge. I think my lilting use of language and verbosity are parts of what present me problems.

Any advice?

60 thoughts on “Short Stories versus Novels

  1. I have short pieces (writing that is) that I am gathering to perhaps one day put together under one cover but they’re mostly real-life observations with a sprinkle of fiction to hopefully add a touch of humor. I’ve never really tried to write a fictional short story but it seems like a good idea for yet another project. Great tips here S.K.!!!.

  2. Don’t forget that there are long-form short stories and novellas (like I publish through IslandShorts) that run from 10,000 to around 30,000 words – so, longer than a conventional short story but shorter than a novel (which is considered to be so at 60,000 words). I have always thought that the story I have to tell chooses its own length. If I try to shoe-horn more into a 3000-word limit then it just reads crowded. Better to let the story stretch its legs and run, if that’s what it wants to do. Good blog post, Susan!

    • That’s what Mark Paxon says also. He’s a great short story writer. He wrote one little story about the spaces between sentences that just amazed me. It does seem to hone skills to write them. You have to think cleverly and keep your wit about you.

  3. I’m not very good at short stories. I follow too many plot threads political of habit. I think both mediums have their own type of difficulty. Novels require stretching of story and extended character development with continuity. More risk of slipping up. Short stories require more focus and avoiding wandering. I can’t see a lot of character fluff being a good thing in something that can’t go for too long.

    • Good points, Charles. In a short story it is more the theme than the character development that is the feature. I tend to wander. I had to go back to one of them and just chop off back story and wandering, get focused on the essentials. It’s not easy for someone who spends hours extending plots lines.

  4. We must be getting our signals from the same aliens. I really want to write some short stories. Maybe I could put out a book of them, with micro fiction to separate the bigger chunks. I can tell there is a whole bunch of research ahead. I’m off to check out your links.

    • There are a lot of sites that do 100 word or 500 word flash fiction. I think Helen and Kate both participate in those. I used to write Haiku poetry and that forces you to say much with few words. It will certainly tighten up your writing to write shorter stories and that’s what I need. I may start doing a short fiction piece on my blog every week just to get some practice and limit myself to 1500 words. See where that goes. Tim Baker is right. It takes some discipline.

  5. I struggle with the same issue. I have a few published short stories, but I found it agonizing to write them. I am more at home with novels, both reading and writing. They allow you to enter another reality and stay awhile. I’m always sorry when they end and I have to say goodbye.
    I have all the admiration in the world for short story writers, who can accomplish so much in so few words. They are masters, in my eyes. But I have decided to embrace my own strengths rather than envy theirs. Happy writing!

    • Thanks for ringing in Marianne. For what I publish on my own, I’d have to say I have no interest in publishing a book of short stories. I am always looking for ways to improve on my writing. I, too, like the idea of embracing my strengths 🙂

  6. I don’t write short stories, so I can’t offer any advice. I prefer writing novels, and I prefer reading novels, too. But it’s probably an exercise all writers should try. If only I had more hours in the day…

  7. I find it much harder to write a really good short than a full-length novel. I too applaud those who do it well, C. S. Boyack immediately comes to mind. He has what it takes in spades, if you ask me. But you know what, that’s okay with me. I’ve found my niche and I’m sticking with it. No one says we all have to write shorts. However, I also believe if you want it bad enough you WILL become proficient at it. Good luck, and Happy New Year!

  8. I enjoyed this post, Susan. I’m not a reader of short stories, but my three published works are all short stories…go figure. 🙂 When I write a short story, I follow the same structure as novel writing. I love tight writing, so I believe that’s why I enjoy writing a short story now and then.
    Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year! I hope you’ll be ringing in the New Year on your boat watching the fireworks. 🙂

  9. Hi Susan,

    What a nice surprise to be mentioned in your post! I’m very grateful, and I’m jazzed to know you enjoy my short attempts at fiction.

    I fell into writing flash fiction totally by accident – I saw a writing prompt and had an idea based on the prompt. I thought, ‘Well, let’s give it a try and see what happens.’

    I’ve learned a lot in writing the flash pieces: mainly how to be stingy with words! I have a tendency to want to explain everything ad nauseum. Flash fiction won’t allow that. I generally write something, and then have to delete 200-300 words to adhere to the word count! That shows how much paring to the bone I have to do.

    I’m truly envious of those who write novels. Novels are my first love. If I can ever come up with something as good as ‘Red Clay and Roses,’ I’ll be happy!

    Some great tips above – thanks for sharing.

    Kate

  10. I think it’s my dedication to all things pantser. I start a story and sometimes the characters finish it before we get too far. So I call it a short story, stop, and move on to find out what the next characters want to tell me.

  11. I have tried both, short stories and novels. I found writing my novel was the hardest thing I did in my life. My short texts just come from the heart, I write them in a few minutes and I’m done and mostly proud. The novel almost killed itself because I wanted to end it in each chapter, I’m just used to left things unsaid 🙂 but I still can’t let go of the novel-thing, I believe my brain just needs to find the button to switch from short story to novel 🙂

  12. I find that for me at least, the writing is very much the same. I find short stories more difficult, though I used to write them in great abundance, because I must achieve the same effect – if you will – with fewer words.

    Advice? Not really, since I see the short story simply as a challenge to stretch my writing ability. I feel that the practice can only better my novel writing ability, by helping me to show rather than tell and to not show OR tell what is not necessary to the story.

    So, I see short story writing as an exercise. I hope that great and enjoyable things come of it, but they are not my end goal; rather, they are a stepping stone to my end goal.

    • Thanks Leigh, That’s very insightful. I seriously do feel writing short stories is a good practice exercise. Keeping it lean and moving forward being the goals. I do honestly feel my personal style is more suited for the novel. I felt that way with my crime novel…it didn’t lend itself to my most comfortable style…which is deep and reflective.

  13. i love to write but can never sit down and actually write all these awesome stories down. Maybe i should start short stories…that won’t take me so long. thanks for this post S.k!

  14. As a writer of over one hundred and fifty short stories, four novellas and one novel, I’d like to share my thoughts. In writing short stories, one has to be particularly careful with point of view and economy of words. A novel, though, can be written from shifting points of view (though having said that, mine isn’t) and can be far more extravagant with quantity of words. Some of my short stories are around one thousand words, yet have been said by some to inspire emotion. There is a definite art to writing short and writing long…

  15. Excellent post, SK. My book, A Good Home, was written first as a series of short stories (mini-memoirs), then developed as a book. While it is still telling one story with Beginning, Middle and End, almost every chapter is a story in itself, and it attracted readers who love this kind of storytelling. So I suspect that a book can be one story made up of short stories (smile). Just as long as the narrative arc is strong.
    I worked in TV and film, and some of us used arcs like the one you showed, but we used some different terms. For example, “the hook” and “the point of no return” are crucial aspects in the journey of the story.

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