I consider myself a novelist not a short-story writer. In fact, I’m not satisfied with any of the three-dozen shorts in various stages of development that occupy a directory on my harddrive. Writing short stories is very different than writing novels. Some people think it’s best to start out with shorts and then move on to novels. That may work for some, but to me it’s like thinking you would be good at bull-riding because you can ride a horse.
A novel is not just a long short story. Psychologically it requires a much greater commitment because it can take months or even years to complete a 90,000-word novel. Most short story writers don’t need help deciding when their story is ready for public consumption. Many novels are so complex that to offer one’s novel to the public without first having others read it is asking for trouble. In a short story, you might have half a dozen to a dozen characters, and are unlikely to spell a person’s name two different ways in the course of the story. Novels can have dozens of characters, which means it’s easy to misspell a character’s name not to mention having a Tony and Toni in the same story. Of course, names that are very similar is something to be avoided.
Novels often require research on locations. In a short story, a few words may be all that’s needed to describe the setting. In a novel, readers want details. They want to see the people and places. I spend a lot of time visiting locations or using mapping apps to make sure my descriptions are accurate.
Most novelists––especially those just starting out––have to spend time plotting out their stories prior to writing. If you’ve spent months writing a novel only to find yourself boxed into a corner and having to do extensive re-writes, you know why planning is so helpful when writing a novel.
Short stories are not miniature novels. They should have a laser-like focus only exploring a single theme or issue. Every sentence of a good short story should exist for a reason such that removing it would alter the story.
There’s no room in short stories for gratuitous descriptions or dialogue––no Well’s or So’s––and readers had better pay attention or they’re likely to miss critical pieces of information.
My intent is not to scare short story writers into abandoning plans to write a novel. To the contrary, I hope these few comments will convince you to approach the project with greater understanding. If your short stories have been well-received, any confidence those successes have engendered is a plus. You’re a writer. Now get on that bull and enjoy the ride.
P.S.: I recently uploaded two short stories on my website and will insert links to those stories in forthcoming newsletters. If you’re interested in reading them and haven’t subscribed to the newsletter, visit my website @petergpollak.com to do so.