Are Short Stories More Difficult to Write?

Some people are naturally good a short story telling. Others find novels much easier to write, because it’s not confined to a condensed amount of words. This is perhaps why people find short stories more difficult to get to grips with.
But are they really difficult?
Let’s consider the differences first. The short story and the novel may share some similarities – a main story, a main character and a theme or two – but their overall structure and length make them very different. The common mistake most beginners make is to write the short story as though it was a novel and the result is that the story doesn’t work, and often doesn’t feel like a complete story because they haven’t taken into account these differences.
Short stories vary in length, from 1000 words to around 20,000 words.  Average novels tend to range from 80,000 to 100,000 words. So with a short story, the plot needs to be told and wrapped up in a shorter length, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Number of Characters
The big difference between short stories and novels is that a short story is told with one main character and maybe one or two secondary characters, whereas a novel can have a cast of dozens. This means there is no room for deep characterisation, backstories or character subplots in short a story.
The short story can’t expand on multiple themes, characters, subplots and dozens of different settings in the same way a novel can. There is just no room. Not only that, the short story mainly focuses on a brief moment in time – a few hours or a day or two, but a novel can expand across decades or more and flip back and forth in time many times via flashbacks.
It all boils down to the limited amount of words. What normally fits in a novel won’t fit into a short story, so it’s important that the writer pays careful attention to the structure of a short story. That means there isn’t room to create multiple obstacles, or an escalating story arc that heightens towards the denouement with varied levels of drama, conflict and tension. Nor is there room for lots of twists and turns, which is why many short stories have the twist at the end.
A short story only has room for one main story thread, one main theme, one main thread of conflict, a couple of main characters, a set amount of description, narrative and dialogue and a good ending. It needs to set out the problem from the first paragraph, it needs to show who the main character is, tell the story concisely and reach the climax, all without the fluffy extras a novel affords.
The length, number of characters and the condensed structure makes short story writing more difficult than novel writing. It’s hard to fit a good story into 10,000 words with so few writing elements to work with, because the writer still has to create a likeable character, a believable story, a recognisable problem to overcome, some conflict, some emotion, some description and dialogue and provide a satisfactory ending – a story that grips the reader just as much as a novel would.
This is why planning a short story is just as important as planning a novel. The elements are the same, in that there are essential components every story needs:
  • What is the story about?
  • Whose story is it?
  • What problem must the main character overcome?
  • Who is the antagonist, or what is the main obstacle?
  • How is this goal achieved?
  • How does the story end?
  • Does it all make sense?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking a short story is a scaled down version of a novel.  A short story is a snapshot of a brief moment in the main character’s life. It is not anything like a novel.
Some writers write short stories to gain experience before moving towards novel writing. There is nothing wrong with this – it helps the writer understand how to be clear and concise, it helps the writer to find their voice, it helps with their overall writing.
Short stories are more difficult to write than novels. It takes practice to get those limited elements right. As with everything, the more you write, the better you become, so it’s worth gaining some experience with short story planning and writing. It will help improve your writing skills overall.

Next week: Are you a short story writer or a novel writer?


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