A topic that comes up frequently for writers is the difference between short stories and novels. At first brush one can simply say “length” however the more I’ve discussed and considered the topic the more I’ve begun to think there are fundamental differences between the mediums.
I’m going to use an odd but hopefully useful metaphor here:
The main difference in my head, or more specifically the reason that a short story isn’t simply a mini-novel is this, a novel is like a juggling act, the juggler throws a large ball (the main characters main plot arc) into the air and also whirls around several smaller balls/skittles/chainsaws (subplots etc). The whole performance is a masterpiece of swirling items that interact in dynamic and interesting ways until the final fate of the big ball is revealed.
The whole beauty of the novel is having the page-time to really develop a complex and intriguing story.
When is comes to short stories the juggler metaphor becomes a bit trite, its more like the performer simply throws the single big ball into the air and catches it again. There simply isn’t the page-time to develop the same style of plot. To be sure, a skillful author can manage that level of intrigue with minimal words and maximum skill. But ultimately my conclusion is that short stories are not a particularly good medium for short novels. Or more specifically pieces about characters traveling from A to B (thematically not literally) with 3 act structures and well crafted tension and reduction. I came to this conclusion after some asked an interesting question about building tension in short stories. Short stories do have tension but I noted that the same methods one might employ in a novel aren’t necessarily going to work in a short.
My favourite definition of a short story is a piece that takes a microscope to something, and the medium is used to examine it. So this could still include an action sequence, a horror trope a romance, but the purpose is more to intensely present some aspect(s) of such a topic. Where a novel might be about a layered journey and short story is all about that thing.
I would love to hear other peoples thoughts on the matter, also I haven’t thought much about novellas or even the more elusive novelettes. Thoughts comments and challenges much appreciated…