What makes a short story different to a novel?


Short story writing differs vastly to writing a novel. While both formats share storytelling characteristics, writing a short story requires a different approach and application. Short stories evoke an artistry of  storytelling which delivers a whole experience in a single reading.

The list below provides several differences between short story and novel writing.

How can writing short stories benefit your writing practice?

Writing short stories can help promote your writing while expanding your experience.

Readers can sample your writing by reading your short stories.

Literary magazines regularly publish short stories. Aside from providing the author with exposure to readers and publishers, some magazines (but not all), pay authors for publishing their work.

While short story writing competitions usually charge an entry fee, like literary magazines they offer exposure and monetary prizes. In some cases, a literary competition will give entrants feedback on the submitted entry.

Man revising his short story.
Always check your short story word count.

If you write enough short stories you can always package your stories into a book form. Alternatively, you could partner with other authors who write in the same genre to publish your short stories as a collection.

What are some of the differences between short story and novel writing?

  1. The most obvious difference (though not necessarily the key difference), lies with the length of the story. Short stories tend to be less than 20,000 words. Anything above this word count and the story begins to enter novella territory. Short stories of less than 1,000 words often fall into the flash fiction category.
  2. Short stories usually focus on a single event or crisis, where novels have much more time to explore multiple events with a complex plot. A single event usually occurs in a short time frame, such as a day, although it might be fast tracked across a longer period of time.
  3. Like single events, short stories generally have less settings than a novel. A short story will often unfold in a single location, rather than multiple locations. A short story can take place in just one scene.
  4. Successful short stories reflect Freytag’s Pyramid structure with a beginning, middle and end, or exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and denouement. Short stories rarely have time to attempt anything more elaborate.
  5. Less characters grace the pages of a short story. Where novels have the time and space to introduce an ensemble of characters, short stories tend to introduce one protagonist and one antagonist. Because of its brevity, little time exists for a reader to get to know a large cast.
  6. Short stories are often read in one sitting, providing the reader with a whole experience. When the reader finishes a short story, the beginning and the middle of the story remains in the reader’s thoughts. Carolyn Lee’s research into short story structure explains how this creates what Lee terms as the Narratorial Presence.
  7. Short stories contain condensed meaning. A novel carries its meaning across multiple scenes, crises, events, characters and reading sessions. The short story infuses meaning with fewer words.

Short stories take less time to produce than novels. New or casual writers might want to write an anthology of short stories, rather than committing to writing a longer novel.

Once upon a time short stories ruled the land.
Popular short stories include fairy tales and children’s bedtime stories.

Often considered the poor relation to the novel, the short story packs a complete tale into a singular experience. Perhaps then, readers could be more enticed to read a short story when limited by time?

Do you read short stories? Are you more likely to enjoy reading a short story when time is precious?

Do you write short stories? What do you enjoy most when writing them?

Short stories, like novels need an attention grabbing hook at the beginning which draws the reader into the story. And while good short story writing shares similar writing techniques to other writing, such as the use of strong verbs, rounded characters and realistic dialogue, they are an art form unto themselves.


Comments, thoughts?