Differences between novel and short story: Novels and short stories both fall into the broad category of fictional writing. Even on a mere superficial observation, the first thing that comes to mind is that there is certainly a difference in the lengths of both works of literature. The question then becomes, how does one know which work is a novel and which is a short story?
Length is a very important defining factor when classifying works of fiction. A word above a certain word count can make a short story become a novellette or a novellette become a novel.
However, the focus of this article is to differentiate between novel and short story. Surely, length isn’t the only distinctive factor between both of them; and the rest of this article discusses this in detail.
What Is A Novel?
A novel is a type of prose fiction that is characterised by its lengthiness and complexity. It is often imaginative or based off human experience and is narrated through a series of events involving multiple characters.
What Is A Short Story?
A short story is a prose piece intended to be read at one sitting. It is usually centered on a single event or series of linked events and has a few characters.
Differences between short story and novel
Obviously, a short story is short and a novel is not. The idea is that a short story is to be read at a go, while reading a novel requires more time to digest. Other differences between the two are related below.
1. WORD COUNT: Most short stories run between 1000 -10,000 words. Some short story publishers would accept stories up to 20,000 words, while some others would regard any fictional work below or equal to 1000 words as flash fiction.
Even though some of these short story publishers may accept story submissions of up to 20,000 words, it doesn’t necessarily classify those as short stories. By standard, anything above 10,000 words and below the standard word count for a novel is a novellette.
The standard word count for a novel is 40,000 – 120,000 words. Others agree that 50,000 words is a workable start, but many publishers would accept a 40,000 word story as a manuscript for a novel.
Following this, every short story writer is faced with the dilemma (or not) of economising words while still effectively relating the idea of the story.
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2. CHARACTERS: With a short story, characters are usually less defined or complex than they would be in a novel. This is because there isn’t just enough word-time to explore even a few complex characters.
In a novel, there is enough room to explore as much complex characters as the writer’s mind can conceive, as long as it does not tamper with the plot, tempo or transition of the story.
Also, there are obviously fewer characters used in a short story than there is used in a novel.
Finally, a novel can contains several main characters, but it is difficult to pull that off with a short story.
3. POINT OF VIEW (POV): In writing a short story, it is very difficult to use more than one POV while narrating. This is because, short stories involve economy of words, and it is difficult to fit more than one POV in the narrative, and still adequately deliver the message of the story.
On the other hand, a novel can be comfortably narrated through several POVs. As a matter of fact, this is often advised in other to sustains the interest of readers, especially if it is a very lengthy novel. With a novel, there is enough word-time to effectively transition or segue from narrative to narrative and from POV to POV especially if the plot is a complexity of several ideas or subplots.
A short story with several POVs would hardly experience that smooth transition as a novel would. It would likely feel like a very fast-paced, short-lived and abrupt switch from narrator to narrator.
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4. COMPLEXITY: With a short story, it is safer to keep to one or very few story ideas to pull the story off. Subplots, or several of them, are not really advised. It would seem like sandwiching several poorly explored themes with an inadequate number of words.
A novel can run on several subplots and themes, and this is actually advised to keep the story interesting. It sort of heightens the suspense, turn of events and the build-up of excitement in anticipation of the climax or outcome.
Basically, there are enough words allowed in a novel for exploration of several themes to be possible.
The complexity also lies in the fact that writing a novel, especially a lengthy one may require outlining while a short story may not. Not to say that the plot of a short story shouldn’t be outlined before writing – each writer use different methods to develop their stories and it totally depends on what works for them. However, the idea is that novels more often need outlining more than short stories too because of plot complexity. This is especially important if the storyline involves several other complexities such as flashback(s), the existence of a backstory or quite a number of subplots.
5. SETTING AND GENRE TYPE: There are some literary genres of fiction that are naturally too complex to fit into a short story without the story being brought to an abrupt and unsatisfactory end.
Genres like magical realism, high fantasy, afrofuturism, science fiction, historical fiction, especially those with an element of world building in them cannot really be fitted into a short story. The plots and subplots that can be generated from these genres of literature are simply too complex and require to be explored in more words than a short story can allow.
On the other hand, these kind of stories are meant to be told in a novel format. This way, the writer can tell the story properly and in the right words without having to worry about economising words without losing the essence of the story.
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6. CLIMAX: Both short stories and novels include the element of climax in the making of their plot, as it is essential for any story. However, where the difference comes in is in the fact that since short stories are built from fewer themes or ideas, the climax of events is different from that of a novel.
This is because with a novel, you expect to see the outcome or turn of events originating from the various subplots created, but you expect lesser outcomes from a short story since it was built from fewer ideas.
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7. TIME SPAN: The fact that there is a limited number of words with which a short story is normally told, means that the plot is often made in such a way that events occur in a short length of time. It could be a few weeks, days or even hours. Adopting a span of several months or years in a short story is risky because it might create loops or holes in the plot due the massive time leaps.
A novel however, can be written within a longer time span; months, years, etc. A novel can even be explored in events that happened with one day or a few weeks, although caution should be exercised while doing this so that the plot doesn’t seem overstretched or too much for the span of time it happened within.
Edeh Samuel Chukwuemeka, ACMC, is a lawyer and a certified mediator/conciliator in Nigeria. He is also a developer with knowledge in various programming languages. Samuel is determined to leverage his skills in technology, SEO, and legal practice to revolutionize the legal profession worldwide by creating web and mobile applications that simplify legal research. Sam is also passionate about educating and providing valuable information to people.