Suspend Your Disbelief

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Short Stories vs. Novels: The Final Smackdown

Day 27 Short Fiction

Just kidding. I don’t mean versus as in fight to the death / zero-sum / there can be only one winner. I mean versus as in: what’s the difference? How are these two forms alike and where do they diverge, and if we’ve been speaking the language of one for a while, how can we shift our thinking so as to be fluent in the other?

Because let’s face it: novels are what sell. Send a bunch of agents short stories, and they’ll ask, “But do you have a novel?” That’s the hard-headed, business side of writing—writing a novel is probably a good thing for your career. (Didn’t know writing had a hard-headed business side, did you?)

But there are aesthetic reasons for writing novels too. Most of us read novels. Most of us love novels. Here at FWR, we love novels and short stories like parents love their kids: we recognize that each is a different creature with different strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately, we love both equally. We’ve been talking short stories all the past month, but as Short Story Month 2011 draws to a close, let’s take a moment and think about how writing short stories can make us better novelists—and vice versa.

The Grub Daily, Grub Street‘s recently launched writing blog, tackles this question in a recent post. Author and Grub Street instructor Jenna Blum offers some helpful advice to a writer who, faced with writing a novel, asks, of writing a novel, “Can’t I just write 15 short stories about the same characters?”

Blum’s answer: well, kind of. She explains:

If you can write a short story, you can write a novel–because both of them have beginning, middle and end. […] The short story contains its own arc. The novel imposes its arc on a series of chapters–or stories.

Read the rest of Blum’s column here, and tell us: what lessons has short story–writing taught you about novel writing? What lessons has novel-writing taught you about short stories?

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