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Short Story vs. Novel: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on November 14, 2023
A short story is a brief, focused fictional piece, while a novel is an extended, more complex narrative.

Key Differences

A short story is a genre of literature that tells a fictional tale in concise form, typically focused on a single event or a series of connected events, requiring a single sitting for reading. In contrast, a novel is a longer work of fiction, often involving multiple plots, characters, themes, and settings, and is designed to be read over a longer period.
The short story, due to its length, generally revolves around one or a few characters and is usually centered on a single, impactful event or moment, demanding precise, economical writing. Conversely, a novel offers a broader scope, allowing for detailed character development, subplots, and a variety of settings and themes, thanks to its extended length.
Short stories often aim to evoke a single emotional response or effect in the reader, delivering a cohesive narrative without the need for substantial background information. Novels, however, have the luxury of depth and time, providing comprehensive backgrounds, evolving characters, and intricate plots that develop through various twists and turns.
In a short story, every word must contribute to the overall effect or theme, necessitating a disciplined and selective approach to writing. On the other hand, the novel’s length affords the writer the freedom to explore tangents and complex relationships, both among characters and within the narrative structure itself.
Short stories, with their brevity, are known for often having open-ended conclusions or a sudden twist, leaving the reader pondering or imagining what comes next. Novels, in contrast, generally provide a more thorough resolution due to their length, resolving most, if not all, plot points and character arcs.

Comparison Chart


Typically under 7,500 words
Generally over 40,000 words

Character Development

Limited due to brevity
Extensive, with depth


Centers on a single incident or event
Multiple plots/subplots possible


Usually one dominant theme
Several themes can be explored


Often open-ended or abrupt
More comprehensive conclusions

Short Story and Novel Definitions

Short Story

A brief work of fiction, usually focusing on a single event.
Her short story captured the chaos of love at first sight.


A fictional book, usually over 40,000 words, exploring characters in depth.
In his novel, even minor characters were vivid and fully realized.

Short Story

A tightly woven narrative that typically requires one sitting.
The short story’s suspense was so intense, she couldn’t put it down.


A lengthy work of fiction with a complex plot.
Her novel wove three generations' tales into a single, captivating narrative.

Short Story

A narrative no longer than 7,500 words, often with a twist.
The short story ended with an unexpected, haunting revelation.


A book-length narrative in prose, telling a story about imaginary events and people.
The novel's intricate plot twists caught every reader by surprise.

Short Story

A concise, impactful piece of literature with few characters.
His short story, rich with symbolism, left readers in profound contemplation.


A fictional prose narrative of considerable length, typically having a plot that is unfolded by the actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters.

Short Story

A short, fictional narrative, often focusing on one theme.
The short story explored the theme of forgiveness in tight, emotive prose.


The literary genre represented by novels.


Strikingly new, unusual, or different.


Newly made, formed or evolved; having no precedent; of recent origin; new.


Original, especially in an interesting way; new and striking; not of the typical or ordinary type.


A work of prose fiction, longer than a novella.


(historical) A fable; a short tale, especially one of many making up a larger work.


(obsolete) A novelty; something new.


A new legal constitution in ancient Rome.


Of recent origin or introduction; not ancient; new; hence, out of the ordinary course; unusual; strange; surprising.


That which is new or unusual; a novelty.


News; fresh tidings.
Some came of curiosity to hear some novels.


A fictitious tale or narrative, longer than a short story, having some degree of complexity and development of characters; it is usually organized as a time sequence of events, and is commonly intended to exhibit the operation of the passions, and often of love.


A extended fictional work in prose; usually in the form of a story


A printed and bound book that is an extended work of fiction;
His bookcases were filled with nothing but novels
He burned all the novels


Of a kind not seen before;
The computer produced a completely novel proof of a well-known theorem


Pleasantly novel or different;
Common sense of a most refreshing sort


An extended narrative, often with a variety of themes and subplots.
The novel delved into themes of love, betrayal, and redemption.


A literary work with a well-structured plot, character development, and varying settings.
The novel took readers from tranquil suburbs to bustling, dystopian metropolises.


What’s the average length of a novel?

Novels are usually over 40,000 words.

Are short stories always fiction?

Predominantly, though they may contain factual elements.

Can a short story have chapters?

Rarely, due to its brevity; it's usually one continuous narrative.

Do novels need multiple characters?

Most have several characters to build a complex narrative.

Do short stories lack character development?

Not necessarily, but development is concise due to length.

Are subplots a requirement in novels?

Not a requirement, but they're common due to novels' complexity.

How long is a short story?

A short story is typically under 7,500 words.

What’s a common theme in short stories?

Themes vary widely, from love to betrayal, or transformation.

Are first-time authors better off writing a short story or a novel?

Short stories can be less daunting due to their shorter length.

Can a novel be non-fiction?

No, novels are works of fiction, though they can include real-life elements.

How quickly can one read a short story?

Typically, in one sitting of a few minutes to a couple of hours.

Do all novels end with a resolution?

Most do, but some are intentionally left open-ended.

Why do some short stories have open endings?

To provoke thought and allow readers’ interpretation.

Can the narrative pace differ between a short story and a novel?

Yes, short stories often have a faster pace due to their length, while novels develop more gradually.

Do short stories contain dialogues?

Yes, though usually limited due to brevity.

Can novels have multiple narrators?

Yes, providing varied perspectives on the story.

Can a short story be part of a larger narrative?

Yes, sometimes they're part of a collection or interconnected series.

Are novels better suited for series?

Yes, their length and complexity facilitate series.

Do short stories require extensive world-building?

No, the focus is often on the plot and immediate setting.

How important are settings in a novel?

Very; they establish context and influence the narrative.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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