Three Ways Short Stories are Different Than Novels

Writing short stories is different than writing novels. Many authors are nervous about writing short stories because they’re not sure how short stories differ from novels.


Like all forms, short stories have their own unique rules. However, the rules for writing short stories are not difficult to master.

Here are three ways short stories are different from novels:

1. Short Stories are Shorter

For one, short stories are shorter than novels. How long are short stories?

Technically a short story is anywhere between 1,000 to 20,000 words. If your story is less than 1,000 words, it would be considered flash fiction, which, by the way, is a growing market. If your short story is longer than 20,000 words, it would be considered a novella.

Most literary magazines publish short stories that are between 3,000 and 5,000 words, so if you’re looking to get published in a magazine, aim for that length.

2. Short Stories are Structured Differently

Short stories are also structured differently than novels.

Novels have time to explore the full three-act structure. However, in a short story, you often only have space to write a segment of the three-act structure, usually a segment that leads up to a major, transformative event for the main character.

A good example of a major event is William Faulkner’s short story, “A Rose For Emily,” which centers on the discovery of the shy main character’s dead, decaying body in her home. The rest of the story is just build up and explanation for that one central event.

3. Short Stories are About One Character

Finally, short stories only focus on one major character. Novels have room to explore the lives of several major characters. For example, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice we closely follow the life of Jane Bennett and her relationship with Mr. Bingley.

You can’t write a subplots into your short story. They’re too brief to focus on the life of more than one major character.

Let’s Write a Short Story!

If you’d like to write and publish a short story, get a copy Let’s Write a Short Story! a guide and reference book to walk you through the process of publishing your own short story.

Find out how to get your copy of Let’s Write a Short Story!

About Joe Bunting

Joe is a ghostwriter, editor, and author. He writes and edits books that change lives. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Free Updates!

Subscripe the newsletter and get notified about free articles, story workshops, new resources, and other updates.

8 Replies

  1. Hi Joe!

    I’ve almost completed “Let’s Write a Short Story.” Lots of fresh, creative tips I haven’t heard before.

    I’m currently working on a new short story and I’m thrilled to be a part of a new community of writers!

    darlene 🙂
    p.s. In case anyone is into Pinterest > Just now getting involved in that platform and it’s quickly becoming my fav.

    1. Awesome, Darlene. Good for you. Best of luck on your new story. I’m working on a new one too and it’s making me a little nervous. I hope I still know how to write!

      1. Lilian

        Many thanks, Joe, for your simple, complete guidelines on writing a short story. You’ve told me all I wanted to know, plus word length and how to format the manuscript for submitting to a literary magazine.
        I’m polishing a short story I wrote two years back and hope to submit it soon.

  2. John

    Thanks for this post. It helped me figure out my writing a bit.

  3. abude sumar

    can i know what is the difference between short story and short novel
    plz reply for me

  4. Brie

    Just a quick correction: Pride & Prejudice is about Jane and Mr. Darcy (not Mr. Bingley).

    1. faheaema

      Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. Jane and Mr. Bingley. (Pride and prejudice) Re-check please

    2. Correct. I mentioned Bingley and Jane’s relationship because it’s a subplot you can’t really go into in a short story. Thanks for pointing that out though!

Leave a Reply