Novel Writing vs Short Story Writing

Today’s post at Suite101 is the -with hindsight– rather clunkily titled* ‘Making the change from short stories to novels’ which is actually more about putting to bed one of the recurring myths of SF, that writing short stories is a step on the ladder to writing novels. It was inspired by some excellent research by writer  Jim C Hines on the subject of first novel sales.  Research that’s well worth checking out.

* Sadly, however, by the time I’d read the title aloud and realized how clunky it was, it was too late to change it without scrapping the whole post.  And isn’t one of the joys of blogging supposed to be that it’s spontaneous? Clunky titles and all!

8 Responses to “Novel Writing vs Short Story Writing”

  1. Interesting post, Colin; but I’m not sure I completely agree. I wrote my novel first, then shelved it for a few years while I wrote a clutch of short stories. Writing those stories (and getting them accepted by editors) taught me an awful lot about pacing, dialogue and characterisation. And appearing in Interzone led directly to the publication of both my short story collection and novel.

    I spoke to John Berlyne in Bradford last year, and I got the impression that editors and agents keep an eye on the magazines to spot “up-and-coming” authors.

  2. Colin says:


    But you didn’t have to do it that way, which is the orthodoxy that’s in danger of becoming embedded in SF.

    And as the survey shows, 47% of the respondents didn’t.

    So as we’re in different camps (I’m one of the 47%, whereas you’re going to be in the 53% contingent) it’s hardly surprising that we don’t completely agree. 🙂

  3. Surely there’s lots that’s the same whether you’re writing a novel or a short story, and lots that’s different.

  4. Colin says:


    You’re absolutely right. But if you talk to many new writers they think that one form is just a longer version of the other.

    It may well be that I cover the differences and similarities in more detail next week. Thanks for raising that.

  5. Jim Hawkins says:

    The problem I see with the original article is that confuses form with length. It’s absolutely NOT true to say that writing a screenplay is no use for writing a novel. There is a huge difference between a 30 minute screenplay and a 100 minute screenplay.

    That key difference is structure. I bore my Creative Writing students at Hull University with the proposition that a short story or short play usually only has one key element, whereas a longer piece needs two three or more to sustain itself. This in only a rule of thumb.

    Having written a hell of a lot of plays and screenplays of all lengths, I’d argue that the best forms for developing structure are dramatic. Why? You simply can’t get away with waffle, and progression and development are naked and exposed.

  6. Colin says:


    At no point do I say that writing a screenplay is no use for writing a novel. What I said was “writing short fiction to hone one’s novel-writing craft is no MORE useful than scriptwriting or poetry” — I’ve emphasized the key word this time.

    And yes, you have highlighted one of the points I want to cover, so thank you for that. 🙂

  7. Jim Hawkins says:

    Colin, Sorry I missed the vital comparative! But there is one key point about writing short stories, and that’s about prose style. After writing a lot of film and TV I wrote “Chimbwi” (Interzone #227) – which you reviewed so kindly – to get some practise in prose writing. I haven’t written a novel for 2 years. Scripts are completely minimalist. Description is almost completely banned.

    Then I wrote another story in a completely different style, which I’m please to say is also going into IZ.

    So – although the short form isn’t much use for a long story arc, I think it has a lot of value in terms of developing style and control on a more containable canvas.

  8. Jim Hawkins says:

    Whoops – should be 20 years!

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• March 19th, 2010 • Posted in General • Comments: 8