I think one of the biggest draws of the novel is the idea of having written a novel. Depending on the author this can be a pro, con, or both. There’s something romantic about being able to say that you’ve written a full novel. It’s one of the reasons that National Novel Writing Month has so many people take on their challenge.
Yet the idea that a writer can only write novels, or maybe should only write novels is a disadvantage. For the first two years of my writing career I stayed away from short stories because of this idea. While it did help my writing progress it also hindered my editing progress.
Pros of writing a novel: You can say you have written a novel. If written from start to finish that’s a lot of time spent writing, which is great for honing the craft. It’s better for working on long term foreshadowing, long term character arcs, and pacing.
Cons of writing a novel: It’s a big time investment. It’s an even bigger time investment when it comes time to edit. Because it’s a large piece an author can sometimes feel overwhelmed, or bored, with the project.
As a fledgling writer I didn’t write short stories because they’re only a short story. That perception is one of their biggest drawbacks. To a writer it almost feels like dabbling in the art, instead of taking on a ‘fuller’ piece of work.
Yet artists do warm up sketches before working on professional pieces and athletes stretch before playing in a big game. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to think of short stories as warm up pieces. Works writers use to practice new techniques, or just have fun with.
Pros of writing short stories: They can be started, edited, and sent out in a week or two. Because they’re short they’re a great way to try a new writing technique, prose style, tense, or view point. There are a lot of markets for short stories, all of which have the potential to improve a writer’s audience. When trying to market a novel it’s nice to show previously published short stories.
Cons of writing short stories: Because they aren’t as big of an undertaking they can feel like less of an accomplishment. Since they‘re short they aren’t as good for figuring out long term foreshadowing, long term character arcs, or pacing. It can be hard to fully explore an idea in a short story.
Now that I’ve had experience writing both novels and short stories I find that figuring out which ideas would work best in each format, using the pros and cons listed above, is one of the most important decisions I have to make.
- Shannon Kauderer