Difference Between Novel and Short Story

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      A novel, as also defined earlier in the 8th chapter in this book, is a long prose narrative in a considerable length including some fictional characters, events, and certain complexity that deals imaginatively with human experience. The novel is one of the more common works of fiction that we encounter. A novel often involves multiple major characters, sub-plots, conflicts, points of view, and twists. Due to its considerable length, a novel is meant to be read over a period of days. The plot moves forward through many characters, actions, thoughts, time periods, and situations. A novel is usually no shorter than 40,000 words. For modern publication, editors often consider a novel one which is spread over 80,000-120,000 words.

      A short story is one of the most common forms of prose literature. The short story emerged as a distinct literary form in response to a fundamental need of the human spirit for creative utterance arising out of “its milieu and the moment in the history of the race”, according to Taine’s famous formula. An average short story usually has at least 3,500 words and not more than 7,500. Traditionally, short stories were meant to be read in a single sitting. They are usually published individually in magazines and then collected and published in anthologies. It is often used to describe a single event, a single episode, or a tale of one particular character. A short story does not usually involve major twists and conflicts, and involvement of various sub-plots and multiple characters is not common. A short story is basically fictional prose, written in a narrative style.

      A story with a fully developed theme but significantly shorter and less elaborate than a novel is a short story. A short story is way easier to write than a novel as one tends to lose patience in writing. There are subtle differences between the short story and the novel. The primary difference between the short story and the novel is not word length. A novel is not a short story that kept going, though every short story writer dreams of writing such a story. Neither is a novel a string of stories with discursive and other connective tissue and padding.

      The primary difference between the Short Story and the Novel is not length but the larger, more conceptual weight of meaning that the longer narrative must carry on its back from page to page, scene to scene. It is not baggy wordage that causes the diffusiveness of the novel; it is this long-distance haul of meaning. In a good short story the meaning is not so abstract, so portable, as it must, be in a novel, but is rather more tightly and ineffably embodied in the formal details of the text. A scene in a short story operates with a centripetal force of concentration. But a scene in a novel spins off a good deal of its energy looking not only backward and forward in the text but also sideways, outside the text, toward the material world, to that set of common assumptions considered ordinary life. That energy is centrifugal, opening out, not constantly seeking to revolve upon its own still center.

      Dr. Johnson said, “No man is ever happy in the present unless he is drunk.” The seeking of happiness in the present is a spiritual impulse, and also an artistic one (the other kind of happiness), and nowhere in literature is it so purely expressed as in lyric poetry and the short story. In a good short story, the crisis exists in present time, it is a point of perfect, drunken poise between past and future, and every word of the text, every nuance of rhythm, every piece of shading and point of light, has been brought to bear upon it. As Frank O’Connor said, in a short story the crisis is the story. In a novel, by contrast, the crisis is only our destination, it occurs as a point in an unfolding of time; it is the logical result of what has come before it, which is as good as to say, of the moral qualities of the hero’s choices to date, and it indicates what the future has in store for one who, by having acted this way, has come to this. So while the short story, like poetry, seeks to focus time, the novel, being more like history, being the most secular of forms, seeks to survey it.

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