The Short Story Versus The Novel

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The Difference Between The Short Story and The Novel

Sometimes the lines can be blurred on what constitutes a short story and what constitutes a novel. Before, I used to think that the only difference between a short story and a novel was the number of words, or page lengths. Although a typical short story will be 10,000 words or less, there are far more obvious differences than page lengths. Some differences relate to the content and structure of the story. Three are listed below:

On The Move versus Rest

With many short stories, there is little time to stop and smell the roses. Often, there are many things going on, even if there is one plot that is of concern to address. Like a mystery, there is no slow times, or times to slow down and reflect. I like to compare short stories to mysteries since there is always something of interest capturing the reader’s attention. With novels, there can be periods of rest. When such times occur, they are not necessarily fill-ins or nonsense. Periods of rest can be times that are promoting understanding of a character or situation, or bringing the message to light. A short story is likely to accomplish that through action and be brief since it does not have a lot of room to spare.

Direct versus Building Up

In short stories, this pertains to character and plot. The main characters, and possibly all the major characters, will be introduced fairly quickly. It is unlikely to see another important character show up towards the mid to end part of the story. It will not take long to understand what the character is about and what the plot will be about, though a good story may not reveal or indicate how things will play out or end. With novels, time is taken to introduce the main character, or more specifically, understand the main character. The main character will likely be introduced in the beginning of the story, but it may take a longer time to fully understand the character, including their behavior, beliefs, and personality. Also in regards to novels, the plot development may be different. It will not be as straight forward as it would be in a short story. It is even possible that the plot may have other plots that come up during the story and summarize themselves in the end to convey an overall message. Plots in novels are more complex than they would be in short stories.

Simple versus Complex

Continuing from the 2nd difference, most short stories are simple in content. They usually center on one character with a mission they must make to solve a problem. It is likely the reader will not fully know a lot about the character, since the focus is on the mission and not necessarily the character. This can be the case for novels if the problem is a large extensive one, but it is a common characteristic of a short story. Novels are more complex in that they are centered on a character (or more), and their personal journey throughout a longer period of time. It is likely there is a problem or two, that the character must overcome or solve, but the focus is often on the character and how their journey affects and changes them.

In sum, there are always exceptions to the rule. There may be short stories that read more like a novel, or novels that read more like a short story. But given the restriction of word counts and page lengths, it is likely short stories will have the characteristics listed above, since limited lengths do not support room for extensive details and complexity. The same goes for novels, as having a longer length lends room for such things.

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