Short Stories Are Not Mini Novels

Granted, short stories and novels have a lot in common and mastering one can lead to an improvement in writing the other, but a novel is not just a longer version of a short story.

Bear with me while I work through this idea here on the page…

There’s  a lot of advice out there to start with short stories and work your way up to a novel.  And I think that’s great advice in certain respects.

– Writing short stories gives you feedback earlier in the process.

– You’re more likely to complete a short story than a novel.

– Selling short stories can help you get the recognition you need to sell a novel.

– A lot of the writing techniques that matter for short stories also matter for novels.

But, at least for me, novels and short stories require a different approach.  And you’re not going to learn how to write a novel unless you – wait for it – write a novel.

What makes a successful short story may not transition to a successful novel.

I’d say humor is one example.  It’s much easier to write a humorous short story than a humorous novel.

Concept stories may be another example….I think it’s possible to sell a short story that is more cool idea than story, but I don’t think you can get away with that in a novel.

I also think there’s more of a requirement for emotional variety in a novel.  It may be possible to write a one-note short story, but I don’t think it’s possible to do so for three hundred pages.  Your character may be the same person at the end of the novel as they were at the beginning (depending on the genre or type of novel), but they probably at least felt different emotions throughout the novel.

Then there’s the whole sub-plots and character development angle.  In a short story you’ll probably focus on the main story, but in a novel you want to weave a few other stories into the background.  And in a short story you might be able to get away with only developing your main character (I say might because one of my recent short story rejections was because the secondary character wasn’t fleshed out enough for that reader), but in a novel you need your main character and supporting characters to have depth.

As always, I can think of about ten caveats to what I just said as soon as I said it, but, in general I think novels and short stories are separate yet related.  They have more in common than say blog writing and novel writing, but they aren’t identical and I don’t think it’s safe to assume that if you master one that you’ll master the other.

(Now, if any agents or book publishers could just ignore that last comment when I try to sell them on the fact that my short story credits justify getting behind my novel…This would be in that hypothetical future where I have said credits, of course.)


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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3 Responses to Short Stories Are Not Mini Novels

  1. VictoriaJoDean says:

    To me, the real challenge of a short story is having fully fleshed out characters and griping actions without the hundreds of pages of a novel to get you there – condensing the space to a short story and still having it be effective is quite a talent. If you can do it, hats off to you!

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