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.
I recently finished revisions on a novel and want to send it out asap. But I know it’s better to wait—I have some writers who are reading the whole thing and I’m sure they’ll come up with suggestions. So there’s the happy part of being done with this round. There’s also the sad part of leaving these characters and trying to determine which project to work on next.
No matter where you are in the writing process—draft, rewrites, editorial edits, proofing, submitting, published, promoting—I think all writers need encouragement at some point. This writing business is a lot of work and those who get it the best are our fellow writers. Perhaps some of these writing quotes will encourage you as well.
The Love of Writing
“Write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page.” – E.A Proulx
“Writing is about struggling through and learning and finding out what it is about writing itself that you really love.” – Laura Kasischke
“I think of writing as a privilege—as a gift that's been given to me. Any day that I don't get to write something—anything—is a day I have to spend being someone other than who I am.” – Larry Gelbart
Writing Is an Individual Process
“Here's one thing I've learnt about writing books. Don't assume that because you're moving slowly you're not making progress.” – Haley Chewins
“How you write the story isn’t as important as the fact that you write it.” – John Cabrera
“Choices are important. Each writer must make their own choices. What works for one person, might not work for another.” – Joan Hiatt Harlow
Don’t Give Up
“I think writer's block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible. But as a writer, I believe that if you sit down at the keys long enough, sooner or later something will come out.” – Roy Blount, Jr.
“One editor or art director might see little or nothing in your work, but another can see everything. Keep on.” – Deborah Marcero
“The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying ‘Faire et se taire’ (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as ‘Shut up and get on with it.’” – Helen Simpson
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” – Earnest Hemmingway
Wow, if Hemmingway can say that, then why am I stressing so much? I’m off to practice my apprenticeship. How about you?
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.