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Short Stories versus the Novel

Of course, the primary point is that size matters. While there are a variety of views on how many words are in each, in my opinion, short stories are between 1,000 to 20,000 words, and novels are between 60,000 and 100,000. If you understand those stats better in ‘pages’ – that’s roughly 4 to 80 pages for a short story and 240 to 400 pages for a novel.


Since a short story writer has less time to get the point across, short stories have fewer characters and plot points. As an example, let’s compare a couple of works by Charles Dickens:


“The Signal Man,” written in 1866, has about 5,100 words and covers the interactions between the narrator and a signalman on a railroad line. The story takes place over a short time-frame and deals with an apparition who visits the signalman three times. Each appearance is followed by death, with the final one preceding the signalman’s death.


Compare that story to Great Expectations. Written in 1861, the novel has about 71,000 words. Pip, the main character, is introduced when he is seven and the story ends when he is about 35. During his life, Pip faces poverty and prison. He takes a variety of careers, moves to different locales, and meets up with dozens of colorful characters. In the end, he reconnects with the love of his life and promises never to part with her.


When considering which is better – I would differentiate between the reader and the writer. For the reader, a short story can quickly make a point, but the characters and plot are truncated. Of course, a masterful short story writer can give characters depth in a minimal amount of words. For the writer, a short story can deliver a message with less investment in time and effort. However, if the story that’s in you and wanting to get out is an epic tale with twists and turns that occur over months or years – then, perhaps the novel is a better platform.




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