Knowing what is a short story and what is a novel

A trouble I sometimes have in sorting out my various story ideas is; what is a short story, and what can support the length of a novel? Unfortunately, there is no hard a fast rule. Most stories can go either way, but will lean more to one side or the other. If you are having trouble working out what to do with your own story ideas, here are a few tips below.

  • Are there multiple scenes, or do you really only know one? Be honest here. There is nothing worse than trying to stretch thousands of words out of something that is finished after a few pages.
  • Are there multiple plot lines, or just the one? Even if you have a few scenes that follow a very simple plot, it’s probably still a short story. If you can weave in other plot lines (eg. What’s going on in the other character’s lives?) then you might be able to stretch it out to a longer work. You might even need to blend two similar story ideas, to create one longer piece.
  • Are there a few plot twists/challenges/dramatic scenes, or just the one? A full length story will need a few major events that turn everything upside down. This can be happening in one or all of your character’s lives, but there needs to be several points of drama.
  • Do you have lots of characters that are all necessary and intertwined with the story, or only a few? Longer pieces usually need more characters. So unless you are writing the new ‘Cast Away’, if you only have one character for the majority of the work, it’s likely to be a short story.

You may have noticed a theme with these questions; how complex is the story? Even if it starts with two characters in one scene, you can tease it out to a full length novel, but there is going to have to be a lot more going on that you initially imagined. If you do want to turn it into a manuscript, let it sit in your mind as it grows, before sitting down to write.


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