The Difference Between Short Story and Novel Writing | Liminal Pages (2023)

Many writers start with short stories before they move onto novel writing. Short stories are great to start with because they take less time to write and usually require a less complicated structure, letting you develop your storytelling skills in a more manageable way.

Of course, short stories are an art form of their own, but if you want to try your hand at writing a novel itcan feel like a very daunting task. After all, anovel isn’t simply a really long short story.Oh no, we’re dealing with a whole nother kettle of fish. (Which is a pretty strange saying, when you think about it – who’s keeping their fish in kettles?) So whatisthe difference between short story and novel writing?

First, let’s think aboutthe main difference between a novel and a short story:

  • A novel is a journey –not only for the characters, but for the writer and the reader.
  • A short story is an intense experience –something to linger over and savour.

To capture these differences, you’re going to have to write in a different way.Here are some points to keep in mind.

Difference 1: Length and pacing

The most obvious difference between a novel and a short story is length. Now, there are no set rules about how long a short story should be, or how long a novel should be. And rightly so, as there’s more to it all than that.

(Video) How is writing a short story different from a novel?

However, a novel is a larger-scale project that takes a lot more stamina than a short story. It will take longer to write, so you need to make sure you have a complex and sustainable idea. You need to be ready to commit a large amount of time and effort into writing a novel.

It’s also easier to lose track of your writing, so keeping chapter summaries in a spreadsheet, or using software such asScrivenerto organise your chapters and scenes, can be useful.

The longer your narrative, the more you have to think about pacing, too, since you’re going to have to convince your reader to keep going for longer. Pacing is affected by the number of plot events your narrative contains (quickening the pace) as well as the level of detail in your writing (slowing the pace). Variation and balance is key.

Difference 2:Plots and subplots

More words does not mean more plot/action. Read that line again. Let it sink in.

It’s almost instinctual to think that you need more stuff happening in a novel than you do in a short story, and many beginners end up with vast, complex plots because of this assumption …I’ve fallen victim to this idea, myself!

Really, though, you don’t need lots and lots of events in a novel. You simply need a lot more development of the events you have – internal and external reactions from characters, more detail and less summary.

(Video) First person vs. Second person vs. Third person - Rebekah Bergman

Subplots can be used in both short stories and novels, but are mostly used in novels. They are parallel stories that run alongside the main narrative (while still connecting to the main story) that enrichen the plot or the theme in some way.

Difference 3: Complexity of conflict

Short stories contain problems that are resolvable quickly. They usually focus on one aspect of a character’s life, or one aspect of a problem/relationship in a character’s life.

In a novel, the issues and conflict tend to be deeper, and ideas can expand in more than one direction. The difference lies in the size of the problem and how easily resolvable it is.

For example, in the speculative short story ‘The Light of Other Days’ by Bob Shaw, the main characters, a married couple, are going on holiday to try and repair their fraught relationship. The husband thinks that ‘doing something extravagant and crazy would set us right again’, so they stop to look at some ‘slow glass’ for sale. (I won’t spoil what this is – you should read the story!) By the end of the story, the conflict between the couple is hinted at being resolved because of their encounter with the slow glass. The story focuses on a single aspect of a relationship, then resolves it through a single event.

On the other hand, Gerald’s Game is a novel by Stephen King about a married couple who go on holiday to try to repair their fraught relationship. Things take a dark turn, though, when the husband dies while the wife is handcuffed to the bed. The problems the protagonist faces keep getting worse and worse, allowing for an expansion of the plot and a deep dive into the character’s past and psychology.

Difference 4: Timespan …?

The difference between a short story and a novel is not necessarily to do with time span. Some novels are set in a day (for example,Mrs Dallowayby Virginia Woolf). Some short stories can be set over several days, or even several years or different time periods (for example, ‘The Hanging Girl’ by Ali Smith). Usually, however, flash fiction (a very short story) is contained to one moment or one scene.

(Video) Stephen King on the Craft of Short Story Writing

Difference 5: Depth

The biggestdifference between a short story and a novel, though, is howdeepthe writing goes. Novels have the room to contain a deeper exploration of a larger number of characters, details, thoughts, and so on, and can more easily hold multiple points of view.

When I say novels contain more depth, I don’t meanthey have more meaning. Short stories have just as much potential for meaning and resonance as novels do –in fact, brevity can often heighten these aspects of writing, creating effectmore in what is leftunsaidthan what’sdirectly on the page.

Instead, I’m talking about how muchdetailthe writer can go into on the page –which is inextricably linked to bothlength, complexityandpace.

Example of How a Short Story Could Turn into a Novel

Some short stories have the potential to turn into novels if there’s a large scope to explore a character’s past, or whether more events can branch off fromthe main conflict of the story.

In the short story ‘One of These Days’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the surface conflict is that the mayor wants his tooth removed; the dentist is reluctant to treat him and displays a sense of nonchalance. The mayor then threatens to shoot the dentist if he doesn’t pull his tooth. This raises the tension.Surely the mayor is joking?But the way the dentist eyes his own revolver gives the threat an underlying menace. Just as the dentists pulls the rotten tooth from the mayor’s jaw (without anaesthesia), he says, ‘Now you’ll pay for our twenty dead men.’ This single line adds meaning to the conflict.

How this works as a short story:This story contains a simple narrative. The dentist of a small town takes the opportunity to inflict a small act of revenge on a mayor who has done the town wrong. The story is around 1,000 words long and focuses on one relationship and one simple conflict, which isresolved. It works brilliantly as a short story.

(Video) If You Can't Answer These 6 Questions You Don't Have A Story - Glenn Gers

How it would have to be different to become a novel:This simple revenge story also contains the potential for expansion. Why are the men dead? Is the mayor really corrupt? Why does the dentist hate the mayor so much? What else has he done? Was the dentist linked to one of the dead men? What’s the back-story of this uneducated dentist in the surgery full of dust and cobwebs? If the author were to attempt to go into this level ofdepth, the prose would expand into anovel. As it is at the moment, it perfectly serves the short story form.

In all, the main difference between short story and novel writingis not just about producing more words – it’s about the scale and depth of the prose. You need a complex idea that’s worth exploring, and then you need to explore it.

Easier said than done? Take a look 5 Simple Steps to Move from Short Story to Novel Writing, in which I suggest how you can put all this informationinto action. (Cue inspirational music.)

The Difference Between Short Story and Novel Writing | Liminal Pages (1)

(Video) How to write descriptively - Nalo Hopkinson

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more:

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What are the differences between a novel and a short story? ›

The main difference between short story and novel is their length; a short story is generally shorter than a novel as it is intended to be read in a single setting. Short stories generally range anywhere from 1,500 to 30,000 words whereas novels start from about 50,000 words.

What are the differences and similarities between novels and short stories? ›

Short stories usually tell one story and have a single plot. Whereas the main narrative of a novel should always be complemented by various subplots, which develop as new characters and stories join the action. Both novels and short stories need a plot.

How many pages or words is a short story? ›

Short story length is always between 1,000 and 10,000 words, and usually 1,500-7,500 words. How long should a short story be in pages? A short story is 3-30 pages long. This number of pages works best when published in a literary magazine or similar publication.

How long is a short story vs novel? ›

There are general guidelines for each literary category: Short stories range anywhere from 1,500 to 30,000 words; Novellas run from 30,000 to 50,000; Novels range from 55,000 to 300,000 words, but I wouldn't recommend aiming for the high end, as books the length of War & Peace aren't exactly the easiest to sell.

What do a short story and a novel have in common? ›

Both the novel and the short story fall in the same category of prose writing -- narrative writing. With narrative being anything that is narrated, a story, it becomes obvious that both the novel and the short story share the same main narrative elements, such as plot, characters, theme and conflict.

What are the main differences between a short story and a novel Brainly? ›

DIFFERENCE:The obvious difference between a novel and a short story is that short stories are short and novels are long. ... 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.

How many pages is a novel? ›

Some argue that anything over 40,000 words can be considered a novel. The general consensus, however, is that a novel should be at least 50,000 words long, is approximately 200 pages. This means that 200 pages is a sufficient length for a novel.

Is 50 pages a short story? ›

There is no maximum length, but the average short story is 1,000 to 7,500 words, with some outliers reaching 10,000 or 15,000 words. At around 10 to 25 pages, that makes short stories much shorter than novels, with only a few approaching novella length.

Can a short story be 100 pages? ›

Novelettes are longer short stories, generally between 7,500 words and 17,500 to 20,000 words, or up to about 100 pages.

Is 50 pages enough for a book? ›

It is certainly possible to publish a book with only 30-50 pages. In fact, there are a number of different types of books that fall into this category, including chapbooks, novellas, and short story collections. The key is to find the right publisher for your project.

How long is a written short story? ›

How Long Should a Short Story Be? The average short story should run anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words, but they can be anything above 1,000 words. Flash fiction is a short story that is 500 words or less.

How many words is a novel page? ›

On average, there are about 300 words per page in a book. This number can vary depending on if you're writing dialogue or how short each paragraph is.

What are three ways that novels differ to short stories? ›

Short stories concentrate on one aspect of conflict or time of life, with limited scope. Novels focuses on different conflicts and aspects of life, with broad scope. Short stories are limited with character. Novels forecast several main characters and multiple of fewer characters.

Should I write short stories before a novel? ›

If you want to write a novel but have no idea where to start, I recommend you take a week and practice writing short stories. Once you have written a few of them, you can look back at them and identify where your strengths and weaknesses are in writing.

Is 200 pages a novel? ›

How many pages in a novel? For a first release, 200 pages are enough. One can also look at authors like Chetan Bhagat, who even today continue to release books well below the 300-page mark.

Is 100 pages a long book? ›

A 100–150 page book is a short novella, probably somewhere around 30,000 to 40,000 words.

How long is a normal novel pages? ›

Using the novel example of 90,000 words, that breaks down to about 320 pages. An 80,000 word non-fiction book works out to about 350 pages.

Is 30 pages a short story? ›

Most short stories seem to be between 1,500 words and 7,500 words long so about 3- 30 pages long (a typical printed page is somewhere between 250 and 450 words) depending on font and print formatting.

Is a 300 page book short? ›

Typical documents that are 300 pages or more include full-length novels. A typical single-spaced page is 500 words long.

What is the minimum amount of pages for a novel? ›

A book is usually considered to be a novel if it is 40,000 or more words long. 40,000 words is approximately 150 pages with typical formatting. There is no strict page count that a book must have in order to be considered a novel.

What are 5 elements of a short story? ›

There are 5 elements of plot:
  • Exposition.
  • Rising Action.
  • Climax.
  • Falling Action.
  • Conclusion.

Is 500 pages too long for a novel? ›

Yes. 500 pages is too long for a book. If you've written 500 pages—whether it's handwritten or typed, single- or double-spaced, narrow or wide margins, I guarantee you can edit it down to 325 pages.

How many pages is a 1000 word story? ›

The most common format required for essays is double-spaced, font type Times New Roman, and font size 12pt. With that in mind, 1,000 typed words is about four pages.

What are the main differences between a short story and a novel quizlet? ›

What are the main differences between a short story and a novel? A short story can be read in one sitting while most novels cannot. Reread this passage from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and ask yourself what theme in the novel is supported by the passage.

What are the similarities and differences of short stories and writing essays? ›

The most significant difference between a short story and a personal essay is that a short story is normally fiction, while a personal essay is autobiographical. There are some exceptions to this rule, but most often, a short story is going to be about characters that have been created and plots that are made up.

What is shorter than a novel but longer than a short story? ›

A novella is a narrative prose fiction whose length is shorter than most novels, but longer than most short stories.


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