Short Stories Versus Novels

1. Do you think that some writers are inherently “short story writers” and others are inherently “novel writers”?

2. If you believe that’s true, are the writers of one form incapable of writing the other to a base level of competence, or is it just that they’re really a lot better at a single form and should devote all their time to it? If not, what do you think about length as a factor in writing?

3. Is the division between short story writers and novelists an artificial one? (Well, I mean besides the fact that it is.) Why do you think the idea is perpetuated?

4. If you’re a writer, do you consider yourself to be either a short story writer or a novelist, or both, or neither?

5. If you’re a reader or a writer, do you prefer to read short stories, novels, or both, or neither?

6. What do you think is the real difference between the two forms? Length alone, or something else?

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen’s first erotic novel, The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom and Their Lover (Harlequin Spice, December 2008), was translated into French and German. Her second Spice novel, The Moonlight Mistress (December 2009), was translated into Italian and nominated for a RT Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award. Her third novel is The Duke & The Pirate Queen (December 2010). She has also published erotic short stories as Elspeth Potter. Her blog features professional writing and marketing tips, genre discussion, book reviews, and occasional author interviews.
This entry was posted in reading, writing craft. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Short Stories Versus Novels

  1. Sela Carsen says:

    I think people naturally gravitate toward a certain length.
    I don't think they're incapable of writing other lengths, but I do think they have to work harder to get there.
    From a career point of view, novelists aren't under any compulsion to learn how to write shorter, but short story writers DO need to learn how to write full-length novels to see better success in the marketplace. (I say that as a short story writer who sees my limitations.)
    I think the division is often seen as short story writers being immature writers. Not true.
    I'm a short story writer, but I'd like to learn how to write a full-length novel.
    I read both.
    Length isn't the only factor in writing short/long. It's about story construction.

  2. Dana Marie Bell says:

    Huh. Good question. I write novellas and full novels, and each are difficult in their own way.

    Novellas need to follow the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid! If you don't keep it to the two C's (the *Couple and the Conflict) you can find yourself quickly turning your novella into a full length novel. If you like a plot with a lot of elements, and you keep finding yourself wanting to add to it, then novella writing will be difficult.

    On the other hand, with a novel you HAVE to go beyond those two C's. You can go more in depth into character background,lay seeds for future stories, involve secondary characters much more deeply. However, the problem there is that sometimes the secondary characters will try to take over the story, or the plot won't support the longer length and you have to play taffy puller with it.

    As an author I like both. One allows me to get a "quickie" off, a nice satisfying bed-time read that, after a long day, allows you to unwind yet still finish a complete story. The other allows me to show a world more in-depth but demands more from both me and the reader.

    Are we inherently novel vs. novella writers? I'm not sure. I've done both so I know I'm capable of both. Am I better at one than the other? I don't think so. But there have been authors I've read where I enjoyed their shorter works over their longer ones and vice-versa. That to me is just a matter of reader tastes.

    As to the question am I a novelist or a short story writer? I'm an author. That's good enough for me.

    *Yes, I know sometimes there's more than just the couple. I've written a menage, I just used the "C" word to, well, keep it simple!

  3. Elise Logan says:

    1. I think it is easier for some writers to write short than long and easier for other writers to write long than short.

    2. And that answers most of this one. I think some writers are very, very good at writing tension, building it and sustaining it – and those writers find writing long easier. On the other hand, some writers are more concise and focused, and that lends itself to shorter works. I think either can do the other, but it requires skills they may have to work hard to perfect.

    3. Yes and no. There are short story writers who never bother to learn the tools for longer writing, and they will not be successful novel writers; on the other hand, it's difficult for a naturally long writer to cut things down and write in the short form – it requires a very different mind set with regard to pacing, plot, and development.

    4. Both and neither. lol. I'm full of ambiguity today. I have difficulty maintaining tension over a novel, but I have no problem with plot or development over that length. On the other hand, with regards to short form, I'm good at paring down plot and getting the pacing right, but I have some difficulty developing character properly in short form. So, I can do both well, but it's a good bit of work either way. I'd say my natural length falls more in novella length, so longer than true short stories, but shorter than novels.

    5. Both. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I want the faster delivery of the short form, sometimes I prefer the slower release of the novel. Sometimes I want more involved plot, in which case I reach for a novel. Other times, I'd rather have a simpler plot, so the short form wins.

    6. Length dictates the difference. As should be clear above, I think the difference lies in how the story is developed and what the focus is craft-wise. Short stories cannot have complex, finely nuanced plot, there simply is not enough word count. There is not the time for building tension, slowly revealing character, and nudging the reader along on a deliciously tense journey. Instead, a good short story is designed to pull the reader through a fast submersion in a story. The plot is pared down, but must be clear (since there isn't time for development). The characters must be drawn in bold lines so the reader invests quickly in the story. Neither is better, in my opinion, but the skill sets are weighted differently.

  4. T. Harrison says:

    These are excellent questions!
    For all intents and purposes, I usually consider myself a novelist(unpublished for now). I can write short stories, it just takes a tremendous amount of effort. Most times I barely manage to get it under 5k words. I envy people who seem to be able to handle it so effortlessly. I do not believe that as writer you talent lies in one or the other. I think a lot of writers decide early on that they prefer to write only short stories and stick with that. I don’t think any real division exists between short stories and novelists, other than the one created by publishing companies. Just like actresses we are type casted into certain roles and after a time it becomes difficult to be any other way.
    As a rule. I prefer to read novels. I do enjoy short stories but in small doses. It may take me a week to finish a collection of short stories but I’ve stayed up for 24 hours straight to read a novel from cover to cover. That’s not to say that short story authors can’t hold my attention. I think I just prefer to be completely immersed in story. That rarely ever happens with short stories. Often they are just moment, or a day, or a week in the life of that character and that’s not enough for me.

  5. Victoria Janssen says:

    I am loving all these replies and thinking about them – thank you so much!

  6. Kate Pearce says:

    I love to write both. I had a writing teacher who insisted that if you learned to write a short story well you had all the tools necessary to write a novel, and I tend to agree with that. Short story writing is a great technical opportunity to craft something with a beginning, a middle and an end in a very small word count. I love the challenge and love to read a well-written short story as well.
    I also like to write novels but that's a whole 'nother topic.

  7. Eden Bradley says:

    It's late and I'm certain I'm not at my most literate or profound, but here it goes…
    I think many writers can start out as one sort of writer-distance or sprinter-and can learn to be the other. For me it was a progression, starting with shorter stories and leading up eventually to novel-length. I still love to read and write both. There is a certain immediate satisfaction in reading a shorter story, but I also believe some stories are too complex for a shorter format. So I also love a full-length novel where certain themes can be explored more thoroughly.
    There are challenges in writing each, and I enjoy both. Variety is the spice of life!

  8. Jenna Reynolds says:

    I started out writing short stories, I'm now focusing on novellas. I've written one novel so far. I like the shorter length of the short story and novella as it's almost like writing poetry. Focus being the key. But what I like about novels is the opening up of the story line and the addition of more characters.

    I love to read pretty much everything so short stories, novellas, novels. Yeah, will read them all.

  9. Victoria Janssen says:

    Thanks so much for all the responses! I'm going to ponder them for a while.

Comments are closed.