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Formats: Comparing Novels and Short Stories

How do short stories and novels compare to you?

It makes sense to first consider the question of whether or not you like short stories. And, if you do like them, what are the similarities and differences that you appreciate between them?

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I enjoy short stories. I like the way the need to be succinct often results in a better, tighter, story and writing in general. But I’m undecided as to the way it can take you (me, in this case) longer to ascertain background contexts, moods and so on – the details novels have time to sprinkle over numerous pages – due to that need for everything to be concise. It takes more time, literally, in terms of mental energy, to ‘learn’ everything you need to understand in order to appreciate a short story; even though you learn throughout a novel, it’s slower. In a short story you learn more, often right up to the end, in a way you don’t when reading a novel, and the whole way through the short story the learning is both prominent and very obvious – there are more ‘aha!’ moments. A novel needs a certain amount of focus. A short story needs more and if you’re reading a collection this focus needs reigning in over and over again, starting from the start again and again – supposing the stories are short enough that you read more than one in a sitting. The foresight of knowing I’ll have to refocus forms a small part of why I don’t read many collections.

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How do writer’s novels compare to their short stories? I tend to find myself looking forward to a novel after a writer debuts with a collection I’ve enjoyed; I look forward in a chronologically backwards manner to stories of writer’s whose novel I’ve read first. I’m thinking here of Maile Meloy – I started with her novella; her first publication was a collection, then she released the novella and its sequel, and returned with another collection. I read her first collection last. Likewise, though looking forward this time, I was hopeful that Jessie Greengrass would publish a novel after her collection: she did; Orlando Ortega-Medina did too, recently, following his excellent collection.

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Do we expect writers to move on to novels? Is a novel more ‘real’ in terms of literature?

And what about collections of stories on one theme or stories that are linked in other ways? I’m thinking here of Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours; when looking at the collections on my shelves I almost missed this one because the characters and themes are close enough to make you think, once the text is no longer fresh in your mind, that the collection is actually a novel.

How do short stories and novels compare to you?



September 20, 2019, 11:07 pm

I like short stories. It’s hard to get good character development in a short story (which is usually important to me), but I can overlook that when the plot (however brief) is good enough.

Jenny @ Reading the End

September 21, 2019, 2:29 pm

I tend to like longer-form stuff better, but I’ve come around a lot on short stories over the past few years! I would say that I tend to struggle with single-author story collections or with reading a whole bunch of short stories in a row. For me they work best if I can read maybe five in a row, tops. But under those circumstances they’re amazing.

Felicity Grace Terry

September 25, 2019, 4:41 pm

Even with my favourite authors (Philippa Gregory, Barbara Erskine) I’ve shied away from buying their short stories. I suppose I’m a little bit greedy and never find them satisfying and nearly always come away wanting more.



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