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The Difference Between A Novel And A Short Story


Of the many types of writing used in Literature, two of the most widely read types are novels and short stories. Both are varieties of prose and fiction wherein the creativity of the author comes to play. Both have characters and plots that capture the interest and imagination of the reader. If they have this much in common, can we then assume that both novels and short stories are one and the same? No, not really. There are many differences between them – some subtle and some more blatant.

Length does matter 

 By far the most discernible difference between a short story and a novel is the length. While a short story may have anywhere between 10000 words to 20000 words, it has been known for it to have even as few as a 1000 words. To state the obvious, as the nomenclature suggests, short stories are short. A novel, on the other hand, can range from 50,000 to 65,000 words and there are known instances of novels running into even more than that. Novels can be called long literary forms of fiction writing. While a short story can range from five pages to around thirty pages, a novel can be anywhere between a hundred and four hundred pages.

As far as the eye can see and the mind can imagine

Another major difference between the two is that short stories are limited in scope as they usually encompass a limited time period, whereas a novel has all the time in the world to write about. Short stories need to concentrate on one aspect, conflict or time of life of the lead character, whereas the novel encompasses a total life or many lives. Novels like Thorn birds cover the lives of many generations.

A slice of life

Since there is a constraint of length in a short story, the author has to exercise great adeptness in conveying all that he wants to within the available limitations. He has to be succinct and express with clarity to bring to life the story he wishes to narrate. The pace has to be very fast. The author of a novel, however, has more leeway to explore circumstances, characters, plots and sub plots at length as there is nothing stopping him from doing so. He has much more flexibility than a short story writer has.

Characters galore

The short length of a short story forces the author to have fewer characters whereas in a novel there is no such restriction. There are multiple characters, some with prominent roles and many minor players who make the whole story come alive in the minds of the reader. Many novels follow the lives of five to six characters in depth which makes for very interesting reading.

Reader friendly

 It is a matter of conjecture whether, for the reader, the short story is easier to read than a novel just because it is shorter in length. It is of course less complex to read a short story as it takes much less time and effort to read one. They are mostly simple in structure with usually one main plot and hardly ever any sub plots. The novel is longer, requires more time to finish and unless one is really interested in the storyline, is difficult to wade through.

Writer friendly

Looking at it from a writer’s perspective, the short story format gives the author freedom to innovate and experiment with different genres. It also takes much less time to write. The author has the scope to try out different styles and approaches and if it doesn’t succeed, not much time and effort would have been lost. The novel on the other hand is a work from the heart and is usually a long process where the author puts his life on hold to complete. Investment in terms of time and effort is very high and puts the novelist to great risk if the book is not successful. Short stories are also very easy to get published. They can come out in the form of anthologies, collections or even be printed in magazines. Getting a novel published is altogether a different story. Many novels lie unpublished, which is a pity because so much of the author has been invested in them.

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