Short Story vs. Novel Writing

Let me tell you something: writing is not easy. Sure, sitting around daydreaming is a part of the job, and may entice many people, but the bottom line is that to create something out of nothing takes a lot of mindpower. To write a short story can be enormous fun, yet exceptionally tedious (especially when there’s that awful thing called Writer’s Block that strikes…).

I’ve dabbled in short-story writing, and it really took off in about 2007 with my short story The Shadow of the Underworld. From then, I’ve experimented in different formulas and found some that worked for me. But the biggest thing about short-story writing is the limited space a writer has to work in.

The unwritten rule about short stories is that they are anything under 10 000 words. Most of mine are under 1000. That’s a really small space in which to establish character, mood, atmosphere. But that’s what makes it so fun: the limited space means that stuff can happen… and fast. There’s no time for excessively-brooding characters, multiple-layer storylines and other gadgetry. It’s quick stuff.

On the other hand, novel writing – something I’m doing at the moment on a “TOP SECRET” project – is quite daunting. For starters, the unwritten rule here is that a novel is any text longer than 50 000 words. Oh my gosh. Fifty Thousand Words. That’s a heck of a lot, and a huge amount of space for an author to work in. But that space opens up new possibilities: now the writer can explore the vast dynamics of the character, introduce sub-plots and interesting structures that could be virtually impossible to do in the small spaces provided by the short story format.

But novel writing can lead to serious Epic Fails. I’ve had my share of them over the past year. In fact, I went as far as nearly 15 000 words on a previous project before jumping ship because of the lame excuse that “I didn’t like what I’d written”. Prior to that I had tried my hand at writing an epic sci-fi/fantasy tome that didn’t make it past 10 000 words and a number of printed pages and scrawled notes. Then toward the latter-half of 2010 I attempted another project (also an Epic Fail) – but I might just return to it. Because, you see, I paused that book so that I could explore the exciting possibilities provided by the idea I scribbled in my notebook a good few months ago, and which I am now delving in to with the great help of the awesome Scrivener app. Perhaps one of the major drawbacks of my previous attempts was structure, and now with the right tools and (what I at least think is) a great idea, I’m positive I’ll complete this project.

However, the above Epic Fails perhaps summarizes the art of novel writing. It’s difficult. The thing is, unlike short story writing, where, with the limited space the writer has, things can happen quickly and thus an idea can be seen in almost-full perspective from early on, in novel writing, it’s a whole different game. The idea is extremely high-level at first, and it can take time to delve into the depths of the lower levels of that idea. That’s why the original idea needs to be so compelling, so captivating and enthralling, that the writer can justifiably stick with it to the bitter end. Novel writing doesn’t happen quickly; it’s a long, tedious and extremely fulfilling process. Sometimes the writer will just want to quit, and that’s when tremendous willpower of epic proportions needs to come into play, to salvage the book.

This isn’t a criticism of either format; it’s simply my opinion of the two formats and how different yet related they can be. Writer friends out there, what’s your take on this whole business of writing? Let me know in the comments section below!


2 thoughts on “Short Story vs. Novel Writing

  1. I actually prefer to write without a long-term plan thought out. Whilst nothing I’ve written contains 50 000 words, I’m sure I have surpassed 10,000 words on occasion. I prefer to write in a way that encompasses my characters in terms of mood, ambience and growth – I find that how many words this journey takes place in is ultimately irrelevant – my first responsibility is to create the world I want my reader to envision; and if that can take place in ten words, or even a million, so be it! I find that such liberty allows me to be more creative with a plot; rather than take the character to the upsetting situation, I can take the upsetting situation to the character, which I find far more fulfilling. That being said, I’m quite prone to writing several short stories around the same character, rather than continue and write a novel on a single plot. Distraction and lack of focus perhaps? Maybe, but I’d rather create a quick and effective atmosphere to present to my reader, rather than one that is long and drawn-out.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents’ worth. Over and out!


  2. Quite inspiring 🙂 yeah, that’s why I try not to look at the stats on the piece I’m writing – I also find that (I think after having been “programmed” with the short story method) I must establish things and keep the plot moving quickly (which is a great thing, actually; makes the story interesting), but the possibilities that open up with the novel format is quite exciting and can lead to things like a more extensive character development that I wrote about in the post above. Great to hear what a fellow writer has to say! See you dude.

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