writing tips

Monday Minute: Short Stories vs. Novels

At the moment, I’m working on a short story that I want to submit to a literary magazine. Short stories are not my forte but over the last year, I’ve been practicing by writing a few. Almost all of them have gone unfinished. I’ve only written a few flash fictions (both on this blog and outside of it) and short stories that I like. However, the more I practice the  more I feel confident about writing them. I feel like short stories are kind of neglected and overlooked. The novel seems to be looked at as the ultimate goal for the writer. It makes me wonder though–which form do you find more difficult to write? Short stories or novels? Which do you prefer and why? 

I decided to focus more on short stories after watching an interview on YouTube with Stephen King called “Stephen King on the Craft of Short Story Writing.” It’s a really quick but informative interview and I recommend checking it out if you’re interested. He said that a lot of young writers start out with writing a novel rather than building up to it with short stories. I fall into this category as I’ve always preferred to write longer stories over shorter ones and I think the reason is that I feel like long stories are easier.

There’s a few reasons why I feel this way:

    • Novellas and novels have arbitrary word counts. Your story can be as short or long as you want it to be, whether it’s only 50, 000 words or 100, 000 words. There’s more room to elaborate. Flash fiction and short stories have pretty strict word counts. Short story word counts are usually under 7,500 words and flash fiction is usually about 300- 1,000 words.

 

    • Short stories are a snippet of a long story. Stephen King mentions in the interview that novels sometimes arise out of short stories. You have to know your character on a deep level to write a good short story. You have to know their past, their likes/dislikes, their personality, their behavioural patterns, etc.  It seems much harder to do this in a short story than a novel because you have to pick and choose which elements of your character are most important to get across in the short story. I like to think of it as a condensed version of a novel.

 

    • The short story form has to be concise yet get across the point in an interesting way. In a short story, you have to be able to really engage the audience and keep them interested with the short amount of time that you have available. In a long story, you have to engage the reader from the beginning but even if you don’t, you still have the chance to redeem yourself in other parts of a book. If a book doesn’t engage me from the very start, I’ll still usually give it a chance if it speeds up or gets better.

 

In my view, short story writing is very much a craft and a skill that differs from novel writing.

This is one area of writing that I want to master. It may even become a goal for me in 2016.

What has been your experience with the short story form?

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7 thoughts on “Monday Minute: Short Stories vs. Novels”

  1. The age old debate among us writers.
    As a long term thing, writing a book is more rewarding.
    But short stories are hugely under sold on the market. There are so many good ones, Roald Dahl being one of my favourites in that medium.
    I find short stories can be great for motivation, to have completed something, and there’s a satisfaction in posting one here on WP, getting feedback, or likes usually.
    Overall, a short story like you say can lead to something longer, so there’s always potential no matter how short a piece of fiction is, for characters, story line, plot etc.

    1. I agree, writing a novel can be pretty rewarding. I’ve also found writing short stories rewarding too but it’s a little more difficult in my opinion to write them. I suppose writing a book is more rewarding for a lot of people because it’s such a big undertaking and something that takes a lot of perseverance. That’s so true about short stories being undersold on the market but there are some really good classics such as Roald Dahl like you said, along with Dr. Seuss and Robert Munsch, who are some of my faves as well. I hope that those will be read by younger generations for years to come. Great points and thanks for your thoughts on this 🙂

  2. I read a Stephen King “On Writing” book once. I think I still have it, but I remember it being interesting. I’ll have to check out this interview too.

    Novels are hard for me to finish writing, so when I attempt them I tend to try and write lots of short stories and then edit them together into larger work later on. If I had a longer attention span I think this method would have a better success rate, heh. But I like short stories because I can usually put down the beginning, middle, and end pretty quickly (in one sitting is best) and then spend a lot of time improving it and building it up.

    1. That’s a great book–I use it for reference a lot and that’s a really cool method you have to writing. I wish I had that kind of focus and skill to get down a short story. That’s awesome that you can do it in one sitting–it usually takes me a few days to a week to write one. Sometimes longer, depending on how much coffee I’ve had. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience on this 🙂

      1. I should reread it. And I wish I could /actually/ write everything in one sitting – that would be great in theory but in practice it is more like, I get the story down in a couple days or lose interest. Mostly I just have to be in the right specific mood for specific stories, you know? Sometimes the right mood is more sustainable than other times.

  3. Nice blog post. I enjoy your blog entries.
    I am currently taking a short story writing class at our local University, I’m an old lady among the youngsters in the class and am having a ball. I started years ago out writing short stories and non-fiction (magazine/journal) articles. I like the notion that I can write a story quickly and move on to the next project. I am writing my first novel right now and it is a totally different animal. I’m not sure why the novel seems to be the Holy Grail for authors. Monetarily, short stories and articles seem to be more lucrative.One freelancer I know made $60-100,000 a year on articles and short pieces including advertising copy. (I never made that much but I did okay.) I know novelists who haven’t even been able to break even with their books. The successful ones have done so with ebooks. Novel-writing can be satisfying and terrifying at the same time. I think the finished product must be the rewarding part–the idea that we can say, “I did it!” But I will probably go back to my short stories soon. (BTW, I have never heard a general word count for short stories before. Most of the time the magazine or anthology will dictate word count.)

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