Short stories vs Novels: Which do you write?

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Every writer of fiction has been asked at some point if they are a writer of novels or of short stories. So, which are you?

When I began writing I set out to mostly write short stories. Why? Because they’re short, and, I figured, there are lots of magazines which publish short stories, and that should make my job as a writer easier. Right? Wrong!

No matter how short the story, it won’t be a satisfying read without a well-rounded protagonist, an interesting plot and a strong climax. And trying to fit all of these elements into just a few thousand words (sometimes even less these days with the advent of flash fiction) is no easy feat.

In a novel you have more space to flesh out your characters and storyline, you have room to manoeuvre, so to speak.

Or do you?

These days with novels, if it’s not getting a reader’s attention straight away, they’ll put it down. I’ve always wanted to do a survey of present day novels and compare them to the novels of previous times (say, the 1940’s) to see how they compare. Is it true that we have to be punchier now, or is it just a sense of nostalgia making us believe this?

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A different audience

Many short stories are read online, in magazines or anthologies whereas novels must stand alone. If a reader isn’t sure about your book they won’t buy it, but a short story might be stumbled upon in an anthology and read almost by mistake. Novels require a considerable commitment on the part of the reader in terms of the time they take to read. If they don’t like your characters, or where your plot is going, they won’t invest that time.

Of course, not all short stories are published in magazines, some of them are published as collections, like these.

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Although several of the stories originally appeared in literary magazines such as The New Yorker.

Short stories which turn into novels and vice-versa

When I began writing about the main character of The Forest King’s Daughter, it was in a short story. From there I went on to write more short stories about her and this progressed until I knew she needed a novel. I know some writers who do this in reverse, writing a series of short stories based on their novel’s protagonist after they’ve written the novel. Whichever way round it is, I think character driven fiction is important. If a character wants to take you someplace else, maybe somewhere new where you’re not sure if you’re comfortable going—follow them! It’s our only hope as writers, to follow our ideas through to the end, to explore all possibilities and to discover what we can achieve.

So, which are you? And do you think it’s necessary to specialise in one form or the other? If you’re a novelist, do you ever dabble in short stories? And if you’re a short story writer, have you ever attempted a novel? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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6 thoughts on “Short stories vs Novels: Which do you write?

  1. Hi Marianne,
    That’s interesting! I love character driven fiction, either in short or long form, though I too prefer writing novels. Maybe I’m verbose too! 🙂
    Thanks for your comment!

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  2. Hey Kendra
    great questions … I now prefer writing novels – probably because I am verbose, ha! – and since writing my first novel I haven’t written a short story. However, many of my novelist friends do also continue to write short stories. I suppose it’s a personal thing. And, yes, I am a big fan of character driven fiction and letting a story develop from the characters as they emerge. Thanks 🙂

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  3. Hi Katie,
    I know how you feel–I love that about writing novels too. I too love getting lost in the world of a novel–both in writing as well as in reading–but I also really enjoy short fiction.
    Writing short fiction as a way of keeping writers block at bay is an interesting approach, and one that I had not really thought about before. I will keep that in mind for the next time I have writers block. 🙂
    Yes, I agree, all story writing can be satisfying, whether the story is short or long, published or not!
    All the best,
    Kendra

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  4. Hi Kendra..

    Interesting blog post…. I love writing novel because it’s like having a world with no limits…. Characters with as much space to grow and change without having to retain who they are or what they desire from the world or people around them…. I also think as a writer you can get into the world and their lives and by the end feel like you’ve all played your part fully and come to that point were you have seen into the depths of the story and come out the other side contented….

    However I’ve always loved reading short fiction and writing short fiction it may not always leave me with a glow of that character lived out his/her story to the max, But then there is always another short story to add if not and I think a lot of short stories are a great release to keep the writers block away… Also like my first novel it began with a short story and because I loved the characters and they wanted needed to show their whole world it became a novel…

    I remember my very first full short story ‘The Sleepwalker’ it inspired me to write more and I have to say writing it was very satisfying.. So I think both have their place in a writers life, it doesn’t mater if they are published or not as long as you enjoyed writing them and stayed true and honest to what the characters want and who they are..

    Anyway I am rambling now -sorry- 🙂

    Take care.
    Katie.

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  5. Great post, Kendra,
    I tend to favour novels, just for the chance to develop ideas and characters. However, since finishing The Single Feather I’ve started a hybrid novel, made up of shorts but with a story that links them together. I find writing standalone shorts more difficult and need a very good idea before I embark on one. That said, I read far more novels than I do shorts, so that might me my problem.

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    • Hi Ruth, Same here. I tend to write the same kinds of stories that I read. Right now I’m working on another novel, but recently I’ve begun writing short stories again. I do find them a challenge, but it is enjoyable to change pace from time to time. 🙂 I love the idea of a book of short stories linked together. I’ve read a few of these, and from what I hear, they are relatively popular with readers. Thanks for your comment!

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