Short Stories are Harder to Write than Novels
Writing a novel takes a long time; I’m not going to try to claim differently. Filling up three hundred manuscript pages with conflict, drama and suspense takes weeks, months even, and that’s just to complete the first draft. Then you have to go back and rewrite, edit, polish, rewrite some more, edit and polish some more and then, if you’re really lucky and have a little talent, your novel might be ready to actually, you know, show someone.
I’ve written five novel-length manuscripts and am well into my sixth, so I can testify to the truth of all that. It’s a grind, a marathon, a twenty-six mile slog as opposed to the hundred yard sprint of short story writing. There is no question you have to have self-discipline to sit at your keyboard every single day and pound out a thousand to two thousand words or more on a novel.
But here’s the thing. Knowing you have three hundred fifty manuscript pages in which to tell your story can be liberating. It gives you the room and the time to develop your characters and conflicts fully and allows complex story arcs to play out.
In short story writing, none of that is possible. All the elements of storytelling have to be part of the construction, but everything must take place in just a few thousand words, a tiny percentage of the word-count of a novel. There has to be character development—if the reader doesn’t care what happens to the subject of the story, you’ve lost him.
There has to be a conflict, whether some kind of interior issue the protagonist must overcome or an exterior problem, something that is happening to him or her, either caused by another person or often a situation. Then, after that conflict has been established, there has to be a satisfactory resolution; otherwise, what’s the point?
One huge advantage of short stories is that the conflict resolution does not necessarily have to be the typical “happy ending” required of most novels. As an author, you are taking a big chance if you ask a reader to invest hours of time reading a novel and then end it with the “bad guys” winning. There is no such restriction with short story construction. If the reader has invested just minutes in a story, rather than hours, he or she won’t mind being hit with a twist ending where maybe the protagonist comes out on the short end of the stick.
As a genre writer, there is nothing quite like surprising the reader with an ending she is not expecting. Most of the fiction in my short story collection, Postcards From the Apocalypse, contains some sort of twist ending that might not be possible in a novel. And that’s a lot of fun.
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