1. Radix
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    Radix New Member

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    Novel vs Short Story

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Radix, Apr 13, 2011.

    So Im not really a very experience writer, Ive only ever written one short story and it was years ago. I do however have what I feel are very good ideas and should be written into a story. I realize this may be a very simple, unnecessary or even silly question but how do you know if your writing a novel or a short story, and when does a short story become a novel, other than the obvious answer of length of course.
     
  2. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    A short story will comprise of no more than three characters and two general settings and will usually focus on one main conflict with possibly a minor second conflict.

    A short story can become a novel when you expand further on those conflicts and either make them bigger or enhance their length until resolution. Novels will also tend to carry more characters as well.
     
  3. Radix
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    Radix New Member

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    So generally when your start writing do you say "Im writing a novel today" or do you just wright and whatever it becomes it becomes?
     
  4. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Yes. My stories just become. They grow. Haha, I've never been good at short stories though. They are very tricky to write with so much limitation.
     
  5. Radix
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    Radix New Member

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    Ok thanks. And I would have to agree with you I know the last short story I wrote started off really well but ended so poorly I felt like I had to fit everything into a limited number of pages and I was forcing things in.
     
  6. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    There are such thing as novellas though. They are not as long as novels. Look here.
     
  7. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Can't tell if serious....

    .....



    Make sure you're writing in scenes, not summary, and it won't matter much.

    As far as actual writing on a technical or style level, I don't believe there should be much difference between novels and short stories. I know a lot of people that think they can write differently on a technical level because they're writing a novel. You know, like the opening is dreadfully boring, and they argue that it's a novel, so they have plenty of time for the story to get interesting, which imo is a huge mistake (boring is boring).

    Keep the prose tight, write in scenes, see what happens. If you want a story to be novel length, you add more scenes, either to the end, front, or add in more filler scenes. If you want a short story, even if you already have a novel's length worth of scenes, you pull out scenes that build in a unified mini-arc.

    How to know isn't too tricky. I have a story that's about 3.3k words (11 pages), and it's just too short. At one point it was 18 pages, and I cut it to 9 pages, and then wrote it back up to 11. I've done a lot of work to make sure every scenes is tight and building exactly to the ending I want, but there's noticeable space between a few of the scenes (any scene that opens 'after the sermon' and you didn't have a sermon scene, means you're missing a scene!). 2 or 3 more scenes, and it'll be better. It's like running across a river on the backs of alligators, too much space between a gator back and you're going to fall in (too much space between scenes and your reader may get lost).

    But, many of the scenes I already have written are before or after this particular story's arc. And there are more scenes outside of those that know could be written (the storyline is already in my head, as I find it's vital to have an entire history and future of a story all present, if not written). This one story arc will turn into a chapter, or two, and stay pretty much in tact, in the larger storyline that.

    The mistake people make is trying to stretch or compress a story arc, thinking that's how you make a story a short or novel. It's not. It's how you end up with a short story that just summarizes the entire life of a character, or a novel that drags on and on as you get every little detail. All stories will be a collection of story arcs, and your job is to find the ones that are good and determine what space they fit into, not try to fit them into the space you want.
     
  8. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    I think the difference is when you start adding fluff. Every detail in a short story should relate to the story and have an impact on it or the reader. For a novel you can spend ten pages at a time describing the characters going to the store. Sure at the store they may buy an important gun, and we may have some characterization but the store description that you added isn't important to the long term plot.
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Mine depends - I do normally know when I am writing a short story but that short story may then become an idea for a novel etc I have short stories that became novels and novellas and novels that became short stories lol

    Some ideas have more life in them than others, some days I have more time than others. For me my short stories are not much different to the way I write a novel and vice versa.

    For me a novel just contains more plot ideas and scenes - it has more room for banter and humour, back and forth deepening the character.
     
  10. coolie96
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    coolie96 Member

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    for me it all really depends on how well I develop an idea, and from there, I just write whatever I can on something. Length never has a set limit when I begin, if I sometimes feel like a story could be a novel, but I only get 7 pages in, I leave it at that. Try to ignore those page limits and just write for writing. It makes a difference when nothing is forced.
     
  11. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to write mostly short stories. I've only attempted writing a novel once, although I do have ideas for some.

    With short stories, generally you just focus on one thing, as in you give a snippet into the main character's life. Whereas with novels, you can have various sub-plots, and a larger cast of characters and so on. But you can easily look up about these forms, or what's better is to read short story collections and a variety of novels and learn what you think the differences are (which I would advise).

    As for knowing whether it's a short or a novel, it depends. I usually just write and see where the ideas I have take me. So I guess what I'm saying is that you should write it how you want to write it. Don't worry about how long or short it is, just write until you've exhausted the idea.
     
  12. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    ^How does my reply qualify as not being serious? Radix found it helpful.
     
  13. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Not if you want me to keep reading.

    And increasingly publishers are wanting novels to be as concise and pointed as short stories on a scene-by-scene basis. Then again, there are counter examples everywhere, and even some absolutely horrid writing gets published. That doesn't mean it's a good way to craft fiction, though, and isn't that the purpose of the forums and what we're all trying to do, learn to write better, not just 'good enough' for audiences or publishers to forgive or allow cut corners and potential sloppiness.

    Personally, I find it bothersome when a published (contemporary) author seems to have the philosophy that they can dawdle and have pointless, fluff prose. If it's not highly charged, compact writing, then I don't want to waste my time reading a short story of that nature, but I sure as heck don't want to waste the time to read a whole novel like that.

    It's bad writing, though of course not necessarily unpopular, and I suppose I don't begrudge people for making that sort of decision, just don't confuse the two.

    Then again, it's no wonder, look how trends in TV have gone (particularly American TV) where the self-contained episode that does NOTHING to actually further a storyline is the popular method. TV has become terrible at telling stories, and unfortunately I think it (and video games) are what many young writers are getting their story-telling queues from.
     
  14. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I couldn't tell if you were sarcastically applying so many absolute, universal facts and expectations to short stories as a form of satirizing the people that answer every question with some arbitrary rubric they seem to have invented themselves.

    Meaning, I wonder where you got these facts from:

    And was the source so authoritative as to be presented as absolute fact, as if it's simply agreed upon in the industry and you're just passing along the facts we all know, when in reality, I've never heard or even observed anything close to this being true.

    If there had been any indication of opinion or that you were speaking of trends, then I wouldn't take exception to it. But presenting things as absolute fact that are simply not even close to being true or an accepted measuring stick is something I do take exception to, as some aspiring write could read this and think they aren't allowed to have more than 3 characters in their short stories, which isn't any rule I've ever (ever) heard and just kind of silly.
     
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  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i was about to raise the same questions... thanks for saving me the trouble and typing, pops!

    taylee...
    handing down such [inaccurate] absolutes as if you're doing so from a burning bush is not a good idea, if you want to be taken seriously by any but brand new beginners who can't help not knowing any better than to believe you...
     
  16. Radix
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    Radix New Member

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    This is off topic but.... did you just call me pops lol?? Im only 21 haha.
     
  17. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whilst the tone of Taylee's post may not have come across the way she intended it isn't bad advice for a beginniner, naturally it will depend on the length of the short story and what the story needs etc.

    More than three characters can be crowded in less than three thousand words more than one main goal and conflict can get confusing - I know taking similar advice helped me focus my short stories once i got the hang of it then it allowed me to branch out from there. Unless you are exceptionally gifted at crafting characters straight away then to have more than three in that space is a bit car crash.

    It is like the advice that all is required for a two thousand essay is three books (two opposing views and one to either support one side of balance them both). My first essay I used twenty books and it was much harder work than it needed to be. Cutting it back to the three books was useful for a time, helped me concerntrate and my writing become more concise. With later essays I started to use more books again but only once I had the skills.

    Taylee's comment sounds like something my high school English teacher would say and to someone starting out is pretty sound advice. Given the number of published authors that particular English Teacher has inspired not to mention English teachers, journalists, editors, politcians etc Her advice is usually sound.
     
  18. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    But what to do when you have a story of about 40-50K? should you cut it down to size and make it a novella or try and expand it into a novel? Or even just leave it like it is and hope for the best, lol?
     
  19. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    40-50K is a novella isn't it ? Definition of a novella varies from 10K right up to 70K most have it around 17K to 40K

    Short Story I think is around 1K to 12K depending on who you ask and anything below that flash fiction

    Novel being over 50K but none of the word counts are universally applied and can vary from publisher to publisher, between various awards etc.

    Most short story competitions I have looked at tend to have an upper limit of around 3-5K (some go as high as 10K) and some journals seem to go upto 12K.
     
  20. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    A good writer (or rather good reviser/editor) will be able to do either. But not by stretching or compressing a story arc that is already working in a natural space.

    Consider a plot like a weekend road trip. You find a destination and stops on the way that will fill two days perfectly. If you find out you have two extra days off work, you'll probably want to add a second destination farther out, or hope the over-night destination is really, really interesting, or you're going to be standing around bored hoping the weekend would hurry up.

    Likewise, if you try to fit a two day road trip into on afternoon, you'll probably not have time to actually stop to look at anything, so will only see sights as you're speeding by in the car.

    If you simply stretch a plot-line or story-arc out to fill pages, it often drags and the reader starts to skim, hoping the story will hurry up. And if you try to compress it down, everything gets too fast and the reader doesn't have to skim, because the writer is effectively doing it for them, as they rush through plot points.

    There is, of course, some flexibility (usually most effectively on the side of being able to write the same story-line in a more concise way), but for the most part a writer needs to think in terms of a trip planner, what meaningful destinations can they add to make a longer trip still interesting, or what sights can they cut out to make a short trip still worth it.

    Whether you should do it for marketing reasons, is up to you and your capabilities as a trip planner (errr writer). Novellas can sometimes be hard to place, short stories usually don't have much chance at financial success, and novels are usually the best chance at both. But also keep in mind, if you revise/edit properly (meaning your short story isn't just a summarized synopsis of the novel, but extracted story-arcs) you can place all three, and make a profit from all three. Sometimes you'll even just see chapters extracted from a novel manuscript and published as shorts even if they don't make too much sense as a stand-alone story arc, and sometimes you'll even see novels that are essentially (either directly stated or just in construction) just a bunch of short stories with the same characters building to a greater story arc to make the novel.

    So, there really isn't something you 'should' do, only what you 'could' do.
     
  21. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    pops: thank you for those words. In fact I have been thinking of if I could add some other 'destinations' to make the 'journey' more interesting and complete, and im doing that right now, hoping they will make and not break the story. It felt a little incomplete before IMO.
    Elgaisma: Thank you for explaining, I didn't know the length of novellas, Im not even sure if there IS an equivalent in swedish, here we call a novel 'roman' and a short story would be a 'novell'... thus the confusion.... :) But maybe 2 of these categories, ex. novella and novel, fall under the same definition in swedish, I don't know. If we have any other swedish people here willing to explain please speak out. :)
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no, i was addressing the poster immediately above me, popsicledeath...
     
  23. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Mammamaia, you're usually very kind and helpful with excellent advice, but I really fail to see how Taylee's advice consists of "Handing out inaccurate absolutees as through from a burning bush." Her statement that a short story usually consists of no more than three major characters and two major settings is not something anyone should limit themselves to, for sure, but as Elgaisma noted, it was intended as a general guideline. Why be so harsh?
     
  24. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Maybe I'm just being pedantic, or perhaps on a forum of writers we can expect clear expression of what we mean, and better reading comprehension.

    Look, it's okay. Someone rushed to give some advice, probably worded it badly or thought they were being helpful when in reality it ended up a load of bull (because I don't even believe those 'facts' if you toss in a 'usually').

    I'm alarmed at how often people jump to the defenses of people that are nice and liked, even when they happen to post some rubbish advice. Look, Taylee91 is cool bananas, but that doesn't mean her advice was good in this instance, and it surely doesn't mean other people need to come in and effective tell us all what she really meant or excuse what she said. I'm sure she's a big girl, and can take people challenging her opinion and speak up for herself without a bunch of people doing it for her (which imo is the height of disrespectful and dismissive).

    It was well-meaning, but misguided advice. It's okay. It happens. Nobody seemed to be personally attacking or vitriolic in their questioning of these 'facts,' so let's not turn it into anything more than it is.
     
  25. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    While I (surprisingly) find myself agreeing with most of what you've just said, I have to say that the burning bush comment was insulting. It was rude and uncalled for. That's all I have to say about it (because I agree that Taylee IS cool). If you won't defend the people you like who will you defend?
     

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