Your story can cover a short time period or a long period and still be a novel, but the longer the time period, the more likely the story is a novel. Short stories exist in a short time period, often one day or less. They are more like a snapshot than a two-hour movie. A short story can be one scene or a few. A novel will usually be many scenes.
Similarly, setting is often different between the two. It’s easy to have a short story resolve in one setting, one place. More difficult to do so with a novel. Think of how many novels, even if they aren’t about a journey, don’t stay in one room, or one house, but have indoor and outdoor settings, and often a variety of those.
In a short story, you won’t go as deep into your main character. You’ll probably show only one flaw in the character, not many. The same with skills, desires, dreams. The short story focuses on one aspect of a character’s life. One situation. A novel will do much more.
Think of a novel like a TV series. I’m watching one now. As I go along I’m getting tidbits of the character’s past. I want to know more of what’s happening in his life now, and in the past, so keep watching and get to learn both. In a novel and a TV series, I don’t get a full info dump of the character’s past—only what I need to know now for this scene. In a novel, I want to know more of both the character’s future and past so keep reading. In a short story I’m pretty content with what happens here and now with the character.
Short stories usually focus on one problem per story. It’s probably not a major life-threatening type problem. Novels have a main problem—which can be life-threatening—but have other problems too. Subplots weave their way throughout novels. Short stories rarely have subplots except in your mental backstory or future story for your character. Both will allow the main character to solve the problem in some way.
A short story could be drafted in a single writing session. A novel synopsis or outline could be drafted in a single writing session, but I have yet to meet a writer who could write a whole draft that fast.
If you have questions or comments, feel free to use the comment option below.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.