Monday, August 4, 2014

The Difference Between A Novel And A Short Story

Want to know what the difference is between a novel and a short story?


You think I'm kidding?

Nope. I'm deadly serious.

You can go two ways with that tale.  It's a short story about a man moving into a haunted house. The end of the story is he dies and is trapped there.

The novel version ends the same way, but the difference is, you have to flesh out the man and you have to flesh out the world. In the short story it's just the man, the house and maybe his wife or significant other and, just for kicks, his dog.

So let's up the wattage, shall we? In the short story he moves in because it's a bargain. Maybe he inherited it.

In the novel version we have subplot number one: The House That Would Not Die. It seems too good to be true, because, of course, it is. But that doesn't stop our intrepid hero. The house belongs to him and the missus for a song, which is good because after everything went wrong at the last job (Subplot Number Two) They need a break. There was getting fired, allegations of sexual harassment, possibly proof of the same or enough doctored evidence to cause a problem.

Subplot Number Two: See above.

Subplot Number Three: The lost child. Maybe it was an abortion. Maybe the missus didn't want the child that he did. Maybe the child was the product of an infidelity. Maybe there was a bad situation where it was the missus or the baby, but not a chance at both (For the record, no contest for me: the missus wins, the fetus loses. But that's not the main point of discussion here, just a little more flavor in the subplot.).  So there's the feeling of loss, the haunted, desperate need to get their relationship back where it was.

Subplot Number Four: The neighbors. They SEEM cool enough at first but HE is a little off. And SHE keeps giving our hero the sort of signals that can cause endless temptations in a troubled relationship. Since The Lost Child sex has been, well, extinct. The drive is there, the desire is there, but the emotions keep getting in the way.

Subplot Number Five: Sex Drive. Both the Missus and the Wife Next Door are issues. One doesn't want it. The other one does. Sooner or later something has to give.

Subplot Number Six: The Shrink. Everyone needs a confidant. That includes our hero. That might be an actual shrink. It might be the best friend he talks to via Skype. The end result is the same, someone who seems to be on his side, but also adds to his doubts about his own sanity whenever THINGS happen around the new house.

Subplot Number Seven: The Bank That Would Not Die. Sounds familiar? Of course it does. We ALL deal with them from time to time. Money is tight. The bank wants to get paid. They are turning the screws about the previous mortgage. The more our hero worries, the more strange things happen in the house.

Subplot Number Eight: The VOICES. Sometimes, late at night, our hero hears whispers. Other times, the Missus hears the sound of a baby crying. Not just any baby, THE baby.

Subplot Number Nine: The back story. There's a ghost right? Well, the Missus has time on her hands and she starts investigating. Seemed like a good hobby for all of seven seconds, but after that the mysterious figure started popping up in the corner of her eye. All the damn time. No one can tell her who the mysterious figure is, and she gets the impression that people know more than they are saying.

Nine points that would never come up in your average short story. All of them add a great deal to the story, not the least of which is length. All of them must go somewhere and do something before the take is told.

One more for fun: The Cemetery. It's just down the road, and sometimes, when he can't sleep, our hero sees a woman in white walking along the lane. She never seems to go anywhere else and once she's past the Old Oak Tree, she vanishes.

So Ten subplots. Maybe one of them is just atmosphere, but, hey, resolution must happen.

Novel. Try fixing all of that in five thousand words or less and managing anything at all like suspense or a good creep factor.

And if you disagree, feel free to tell me why.

Keep Smiling,

James A. Moore


  1. That was an excellent breakdown and description of subplots!

  2. Excellent post. And probably indicative of why I don't do well writing short fiction. I have too many subplots in my head for any given story.

    1. I like to write short stories to challenge myself. Mind you, most of my short stories are 8,000 or more words long for that reason. :)