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What is the difference between a short story and a novel? June 23, 2015

Posted by heidi skarie in Writing.
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I write novels and have extensively studied the complexities of how to write one. I’m less familiar with the structure of short stories, so I did some research to figure how a short story is different from a novel.

The obvious difference between a novel and a short story is that short stories are short and novels are long. Short stories can be 1,000 to 20,000 words. More average is 3,000 to 5,000 words. A novel can be anywhere from 60,000 to over 120,000.

A short story has one main character and the story is told through that character’s point of view. Often it is told in first person or limited first person. A novel has a cast of characters and the story can be told from any of those characters’ viewpoints.

The main character of a short story has a need or fear that leads to a major change or climactic event in that person’s life. The protagonist comes to a single understanding or insight. A novel is much more complex with many transformational events that more than one characters can go through.

A short story usually takes place in a few hours or days in few settings. A novel can take place over a short period of time or it may cover years or generations in many different settings, countries and even planets.

A short story has one theme, whereas a novel can explore different themes and has more breadth and scope.

Each story form has different challenges. The short story gives the author a chance to explore one idea with one character. It must be written so that it is tight and a lot conveyed in an economy of words. The first draft may be written in one setting and rewritten and edited in a short period of time. However, the limitation on the number of words in itself can be a challenge. How do you make a reader care about the character in so few pages? How do you make an emotional impact?

The novelist has time to explore characters, different settings, subplots and sweeping events. The commitment to write a novel is much larger and it may take years to research, write, rewrite and edit.

While researching the difference between short stories and novels I came across a YouTube of TC Boyle reading The Lie from his anthology Wild Child: And Other Stories51++DtIBs9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_. The story is delightful to listen to and quite engaging. I found myself thinking—no don’t say that! I can’t believe you just said that. What were you thinking?

The Lie illustrates all the qualities of a good short story discussed above. It’s well worth listening to.

Here is the YouTube:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-nwoMJTung

I’d enjoy hearing your impressions of The Lie. Did you find yourself identifying with the main character? Did you laugh? Have you ever told a lie that led you to more lies?

If you’d like a copy of my short story Star Rider Emerges, click over to my website and sign up for my newsletter. Here is a link: bluestarvisions

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