How Writing a Short Story Differs From Writing a Novel


Do you have a question about your fantasy novel, short story, or spot of flash fiction that’s burning for an answer (or even just a question about writing or the column in general)? If so, please email in your questions to: me "at" susanjmorris "dot" com. 


Dear Susan,   

Thanks for the great blog! My question is how to write a short story and how it differs (if it does) from writing a novel.


Sarah, Derby


Hi Sarah,

Thanks for the question and the compliment!

Short stories and novels—what a good subject. As you likely know, most authors have opinions on these things. Writers tend to have a general word count with which they are comfortable—with some tending toward the legendarily long and others toward the shortest of short. And, given their druthers, this is often the length all their stories would be, as it can be unbelievably difficult to write to a different word count. I mean, think about it! If you’re used to developing plotlines and character arcs over some 100k words, imagine going to just 1-10% of that! For this reason, some authors go so far as to define themselves as simply short story authors or novelists, and eschew other lengths altogether.

You can likely understand why. I mean, story ideas (and character arcs) tend to come in various sizes. And (in most cases, anyway) you just can’t stuff a big story into a tiny story’s package without taking a serious hit to the quality of the fiction (or stretch a tiny story out over the length of a fantasy epic, for that matter). So, if you’re a person who tends toward big story ideas, with long, fleshier character arcs, then you might find writing a short story a fearsome process—and if you tend toward smaller story ideas, stretching out your idea over a mountain of a novel might seem likewise daunting. (So many words! Why are there so many words?)

But that being said, aside from scope, the actual process of writing a short story is fairly similar to that of a novel, and most writers, given practice, can totally swing both. Here are just a few of the ways I’ve found the writing process differs for short stories, as well as a little bit on how to go about writing one for yourself. I hope it answers your question!

Short Stories: They’re Short

Of course, far and away, the biggest difference between short stories and novels is the length. But what does this mean for our intrepid writer? Generally speaking, it means you have less space to establish your characters, setting, and plot; less space to affect some meaningful change of character and context; and less space to do just about everything.

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Comments (3)

"I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing." -Cormac McCarthy

Posted by: Jeremy | Monday February 18, 2013 at 5:45 PM

Hi Susan, thanks for the answer! It's just what I was looking for and helps a lot :-)

Posted by: Sarah | Sunday February 24, 2013 at 11:48 AM

I am an avid reader and love to write. I discuss authors and their works at

Posted by: gkensington | Monday March 4, 2013 at 1:01 PM

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