When writers are starting out, they might wonder whether to cut their writing teeth on some short stories, or go for broke with a novel. Arguments rage over which is easier to write, so here are a few pro’s and con’s to help you decide.

  • The Time Factor

You can write a short story in a day – a novel will take much longer. But if you have a complicated idea that you can only do justice to in a novel, it is no use trying to cram it into a short story – it won’t work.

  • The Length Factor

If you have one simple idea that you can turn into a short story with just a few characters, don’t try to spin it out into a novel – it won’t work.

  • The Ideas Factor

If you have an idea for a work of fiction, how can you tell whether it is something you can develop into a novel or whether it should remain a short story? Think about these aspects:

Characters: how many major and minor characters are needed to tell this story? If it is more than three main characters, with a couple of minor ones, then you will probably need to work it up into a novel.

Background: how interesting or complicated is the background to your story? If it is set in a foreign country, or in a specialised workplace, you might not be able to do it full justice in a short story.

Plot: how many twists and turns will you need to introduce into the narrative? A short story can only take up to around half a dozen.

Time-Frame: ideally a short story should take place during a brief space of time, a few months at most. If you want to spread the story out over years, or even decades, you probably need the scope of a novel.

  • The Market Factor

Assuming you eventually hope to sell your work, it is much easier to find an outlet for a short story than a novel. The chances of your short story being read by strangers is fairly high, especially if you publish it on the internet, but few people are likely to read a whole unpublished novel. From some websites you can get feedback, and you may even receive some payment for it.

  • The Style Factor

Think about your writing style: do you prefer writing dialogue and action, or internal monologue and description? As a general rule, the former is probably more suited to short stories, the latter to novels.

  • The Fame and Fortune Factor

Novelists generally get more media attention than short story writers. If you want to become a celebrity writer, become a novelist. But also be aware that you are more likely to end up in many ‘slush piles’ and even it your novel is published your chances of becoming rich and famous are very slim indeed. Of course there is another possibility: your fiction idea might be better expressed as a drama script, than either a novel or a short story. To find out if this applies, see my companion article, “Fiction or Drama? Deciding which to Write.” Good luck!