Should I Write a Short Story or a Novel?

This question has vexed me since I’ve started writing. The first novel-length work I ever wrote was effectively a lengthened short story by throwing contrived plot twists into the story.

It was terrible.

However, the question is a valid one: What should the length of my story be?

To be honest, there’s more options than just short story or novel. You could write a novella (and I am currently working on one) or any other length of work. So I brainstormed and came up with a few pointers for people, like me, who struggle to decide which way to go with their fiction:

  • The length of the work should depend on the work itself and your own style.

I spent some time working on a short story. I really liked where it was going. A deep lore, interesting fantasy elements, and even a geography. I think you can see the problem already. This work was not meant to be a short story. It was meant to be a longer format.

If your story involves a deeply entrenched history and other worldbuilding elements, you may want to go with a longer format. Short stories are designed to tell a tale quickly and effectively. It’s hard to get as detailed as you’d like with a short story, but not impossible.

  • A longer format allows for mistakes.

Novels can be messy. By that I mean they should be well-written, plotted, and designed to have a story with characters. But, you can make “mistakes” that you can’t make with short stories.

Due to the word constraints in a short story, there’s less space to experiment with different scenes, or beats, in a story. You have to setup and pay off within the same 3000 words, for example. In a novel, you can set things up that suggest something, then have a reversal of those expectations later in the story. However, it may be 30,000 words between setup and pay off. You have the room to experiment with it.

If your style is more attuned to adding new plot threads, suggestions of further depth, or hidden secrets, then a longer length may be preferable.

If the story contains those elements in your outlining, then you may want to think about going for the longer length, as well.

  • Short fiction has the benefit of brevity.

If “brevity is the soul of wit”, then I’d argue that a short story helps writers become witty with their choices.

Short fiction helps a writer develop plotting and endings far better than any novel. However, once a writer has developed as a short story writer, most will make the move to novels. The character development, dialogue, and worldbuilding that you can do in a novel is just plain fun. Conventional wisdom has always held that a writer should work on short stories first, then work on novels. I’m not sure I’d go as far as saying that’s required in all cases, but I see the benefits.

All in all, think about it. You and your story may benefit from a different format.

You might like some of my book reviews:

Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

You may also like my other work on writing:

Finding Your Writing Style

Dodging Derivatives

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!


Going from Outline to Manuscript

Writing ToolsIn developing a story, you will often hear the advice that outlining organizes your thoughts and makes the story more coherent.

This advice is valuable.

However, how do you get from the outline you’ve created to the manuscript?

Here are five tips I have for you writers who struggle to go from the outline to a full manuscript:

1. Follow the Outline.

This is basically step one. You should have added enough to the outline so plot threads you introduce actually have conclusions. If you follow this outline well enough, you will not forget about certain characters or plot elements. It drives me crazy in stories when authors forget about entire characters!

At the same time, don’t let the outline redirect you from creative ideas! Let ideas flow naturally, but let the story read naturally as well. It’s a tough balance.

2. Write Like You’re Reading.

When I say this I don’t mean skimming details. I mean, “write like you’re reading the story word for word”. If it’s quick and the pacing is wrong, slow down. If it’s too slow, speed up! Outlines aren’t much help for this kind of thing.

Your outline won’t have any concern for word count either (though it helps!) so make sure you pay attention to how much time certain story elements take. A quick action scene shouldn’t take ten pages of descriptions about a space ship!

3. Keep Your Folder Nearby.

I think you know what folder I mean. When you start writing a novel, you collect your ideas in a book or folder to keep them all organized. Mine would always look like a packet of mismatched papers!

Look at this folder every time you write. Your outline will guide you, but this folder will flesh out your world. These little touches build a world!

4. Develop a Plan for Each Character.

Getting each character where they need to be is part of your outline (rather, it should be part of your outline). If you are missing this in your outline, then you need to go back and figure this out. Don’t forget about a single character!

But overall, the outline might be missing those specifics that make your characters unique. Your folder from above should contain a quick summary of your character for you to reference, something that you can glance at and remember how you imagine the character to be.

If they change over time, that’s fine! But make sure it’s believable. Why are they changing? What are they responding to?

Creating a world in fiction is one thing, creating a person is another. However, they both spring from the little things.

(But ask yourself this: do you want believability or memorability?)

5. Find Time to Write.

This sounds so simple, but for those of us with careers, it’s difficult.

If you can’t write daily, then write every other day. If that won’t work, then write twice a week or once a week.

Time constraints are generally the only thing keeping your novel constrained to your mind.

I really hope that helps you! I found these tips specifically useful to me when I write. So if even one person gets some benefit from this list, I’m glad.

Keep writing!