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The Short Story and the Novel

            The novel and the short story… They’re certainly related in the sense that they both tell a story, but don’t be fooled. They’re two entirely different monsters.

            I don’t write short stories and it’s not that I haven’t tried. I just can’t write them. Why?

            Well, it’s the big difference between a short story and a novel. One is short, and one is long and that’s where I fail.

            My plots aren’t simple. Even when I want them to be simple, they’re not. I always start off with an estimated length and basic plot. Then as I progress, I a plot twist that I didn’t foresee comes up and then a plot twist that works better and better explains the main plot comes to me and so forth and so forth. Now, I do know when to stop, but that’s why I always end up with a novel.

            In a short story, there’s no room for that. As my dad would say, you have to hit it and quit it. There’s no room for a very complicated plot. Usually there’s room for maybe one or even two as I’ve seen in short stories I’ve read so far. I mean that in the way that the plot while original is usually very simple in nature.

            Now does that mean one is better than the other? No? But most importantly, does it mean that you have to start with a simple short story to eventually write a novel? Not at all. I was struck dumb when I heard a writing on a “so-called” helpful site that said in order to write a novel, you have to know how to write a short story. That’s so not true even though it is true that a novel is really like a bunch of short stories weaved together.

            Here’s an exercise to proof it. Take apart your novel, plot by plot. It’s going to take some time, but it will be fun. Now it may not make a lot of sense since some scenes overlap and the plots are very interwoven, but what you have is a lot of short stories that help propel a main plot and get you to the eventual resolution. I only did it once, because I wasn’t sure what was going on in my novel and what was important as I edited.

            So while the website was definitely wrong on that point, there is some merit to his argument. Writing short stories can teach you how to write a concise novel, keeping what’s needed to resolve the main conflict. That’s why I took apart my novel and figured out how each sub-conflict eventually resolved the main conflict. So writing a short story can help.

            But my point is, just know that both are very different beasts to conquer. Writing is not grade school. You don’t have to write a bunch of short stories before you start to write a novel. But if you want to do that, you can. But don’t worry about it. Worry about knowing whether or not you know how to write a sentence with a subject and verb and that you know what a subject and verb is. Worry about knowing what a paragraph is and flow and whether you write novels or short stories it’ll work out. As I always say, whatever works for the writer, short story or novel.

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