Short Fiction vs Novels AND ALSO…Setting

First, a little bit about my background. Then, the difference between Short Stories and Novels. Last, a word about writing setting, and why it’s more important than I thought. Skip around if you want. I won’t be offended.

my writing background

If you’d asked me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have had one of three answers: 1) goalie in the NHL, 2) marine biologist, or 3) actress.

1—I grew up in the desert of Colorado and none of my friends wanted to play street hockey with me.

2—As a child I was deathly afraid of whales. They still totally creep me out.

3—Seemed most viable.

Problem was, this tiny little town I grew up in had very little culture, very few opportunities for me to pursue theater until it was introduced in 8th grade as an elective. Until that point, I read Shakespeare and wrote my own scripts. Writing was a means to an end.

My eighth grade year, my school also finally included a creative writing elective. It wasn’t much, but it was my first real instruction in writing, and it was short stories. I learned that writing could be its own reward.

I continued taking creative writing in high school and decided to major in writing in college (my grandparents, who helped me pay my tuition at this private liberal arts university, forbade me from majoring in the arts. Writing I got away with because I could train as a technical writer). Halfway through my junior year, I changed my major to a combination of writing and graphic design. That choice meant I had to give up some writing classes, and one that I gave up was “Writing of Place.”

I thought it was a good choice at the time. When reading, I usually skimmed or completely skipped paragraphs of exposition, unless I REALLY liked the book and was determined to read every. single. word. Setting seemed secondary to the rest of the novel. Who wants to read twelve paragraphs about how undulating the hilly landscape is? Not I.

Sometimes I just wished that all books were illustrated…

When writing skits or plays, I don’t have to write setting—I can write a line or two and leave the rest to the set designer. Setting was an afterthought.

I have a problem few others share. Most writers write too much and then have to edit, edit, edit, edit to trim the fat. I write a skeleton of a story and then revise and revise to give it some more fat.

So it comes as no surprise that, when I decided to try NaNoWriMo a few year’s back, I got about 3,000 words into my novel and realized that I was about halfway through the plot. That’s not a novel. That’s a pathetic, anemic excuse for a novel. I learned then that a novel is in a completely different league than short stories (not to mention plays).

the difference between novels and short fiction

First, there’s a difference in length.

  • Length—Novels are longest, novellas are shorter, and short stories are shortest. See the numbers below for my recommendations. For more information, check out this post on
    • Novel                  80,000–100K words
    • Novella               20,000–50,000 words
    • Short Fiction    2,500–10,000 words
    • Flash Fiction     fewer than 1,000 words

With all those extra words, novels have more room to explore…more.

There’s a difference in scope.

  • CHARACTERS—Short stories usually focus on one or two characters. Novels often introduce a larger cast of protagonists, antagonists, secondary characters, and minor characters.
  • PLOT—Novels have longer, more complex plots. Short stories have to be simpler than novels because of the length constraint. However, I think there’s more freedom with short stories because they have a selective plot. Making Shapely Fiction is a great resource on the variety of “shapes” short fiction can take.
  • SETTING—Novels take you to more places, switch scenes more often, or stay in one place through more seasons.

And there’s a difference in depth.

  • CHARACTERS—Novels can explore depth of character in more words. But this can be a pitfall, because it tempts writers to spend far too much time in backstory. Feel free to get carried away during the drafting process, but kill, kill, kill! during revision
  • PLOT—Novels have plots, subplots and twists to keep the reader turning pages. Short stories usually focus on one plot line.
  • SETTING—A more generous word count means novels spend more time exploring setting. 


Too much setting, and the reader’s eyes glaze over and they skip a few paragraphs. Too little setting, and you have a novel that no one can connect with because all they can visualize is a bunch of nobodies floating around in nothingness doing nothing. Unless you are Samuel Beckett writing Waiting for Godot, it’s not going to work. In fact, I think that Waiting for Godot is a waste of ink.

You really don’t want to know what I know about writing setting because…I really have no idea what I’m doing yet. But the best resource I have yet found on the subject is “Four Ways to Bring Settings to Life” by Moira Allen. You can read it here. Yes, the website isn’t the prettiest, but the text is what is important.


So here’s your Monday Motivation.

  1. Take a character you know fairly well. Your WIP’s protagonist, your favorite fictional character, yourself, etc.
  2. Choose a mood for your character. Angstful? Annoyed? Embarrassed? Lonely? Something else?
  3. Pick a setting/situation and place your character in it.
  4. What is happening? How does your character react? What does your character notice? Keep his or her mood in mind—how we feel influences what we see and what we do.
  5. Write until you feel satisfied that you learned something or challenged yourself.

Conflict: (wo)Man versus…what?

I (Lara) am going on vacation! Sort of…moving isn’t really relaxing, is it? To get notified of when WriteLaraWrite is returning, be sure to subscribe to the blog, follow on Twitter, that sort of thing. (Use the buttons on the left column)

In lieu of a post this week, and to get you through the next couple of weeks while I pack up and move across country, I am going to send you fine people over to PaperWings Podcast!

PaperWings Podcast is a podcast and blog for comic writers and illustrators. They’ve got some really awesome posts about storytelling over there, and their recent posts about conflict are so good, I’m not even going to bother to write about the topic right now. Some people call it laziness, I call it resourcefulness and spreading the love. Chris and Lora are great people, and I think you’ll enjoy their words.

Without further adieu, here’s the series on conflict from PaperWings:

See you in a few weeks, my darlings! I will try to update when I can, but no promises until a few weeks from now. We will definitely be back to speed in August, so long as I have Internet. Or a babysitter so I can find some Internet.

Kindle Touch versus Nook Simple Touch

UPDATE: This is a review comparing the Nook Simple Touch to the Kindle Touch. These models have both been replaced by newer models. And while I still prefer brick & mortar stores to Amazon, after struggling with my Nook’s clunky highlighting and note-taking issues, I’d recommend just going with the free Kindle app on mobile devices, or sticking with physical books if you don’t want to read back-lit text.

Next week is my birthday, and though I have thought about getting an E-reader for a few years now, I am finally getting one.

Why the delay?

1. I like physical books. No e-reader will ever compare to snuggling up with a book, turning its pages, holding the weight in your hand, seeing the typography printed on paper and laid out with intention. And no e-reader will ever have that deliciously musty smell of a book.

2. I wanted a touch screen, no backlight e-reader if I was going to get one at all. I have an iPhone with both Nook and Kindle apps if I need a backlight, but the truth is, I stare at a screen all day. I’d prefer reading to be better for my eyes, not more strain for them.

3. I wasn’t reading enough to justify the purchase.

4. I thought going to the library would suffice when I finally finished the books I was reading.

5. Buying used books is cheaper than buying an e-book.

Why the change of heart?

1. I’ll still buy physical books.

2. No backlight E-readers with full touch screens are available.

3. I’ll read more if I have access to more books.

4. The local library here has very little selection. When we move to the city, I’ll use the library more, but I can get e-books from the library, too.

5. Buying new books supports the publisher, which means more books in the future.

Kindle Vs. Nook

Big surprise! The Kindle Touch and Nook Simple Touch have more similarities than differences. To read about the similarities and a few differences, read this article at the MSNBC Technolog, or click the image below.

The Nook and Kindle homepage layouts
John Brecher /

Kindle Touch Review

I went to two stores with Kindle Touch samples, Walmart and Best Buy. Unfortunately, the demo version used at both stores SUCKS, so if you want to try out a Kindle Touch, find a friend who has one and try theirs, or find a nice Best Buy person willing to register the sample in his name so you can bypass the demo. The latter happened for me. Still, it felt a bit clunky, so finding a friend seems the better option.

Here’s the overview of a Kindle Touch:

  • One free book to borrow per month if a Prime member ($80 annually) NOW $99 annually
  • $30 more to get one without ads
  • 3G available for $50 more
  • Can view web browser
  • text-to-speech option
  • 4 GB storage plus cloud capabilities
  • can read PDF, TXT, and Word documents, no e-pub
  • turn page by tapping sides of screen
  • Reading Options:
    • Options accessed by tapping top of screen (I accidentally accessed it a few times while turning pages)
    • 8 text sizes
    • 1 typeface with 3 font options (serif, sans, condensed)
    • 3 choices for line spacing
    • Words per line: fewer, fewest, default
  • not easiest to navigate (demo version impossible)
Because I used a demo version, my experience was limited.

Nook Simple Touch Review

  • 1 hour free reading in-store, every day, of e-books you haven’t purchased. A select e-book is free every Friday
  • no ads
  • 3G not available
  • no text-to-speech
  • no web browser access
  • 2 GB storage plus cloud capabilities plus SD card slot for unlimited storage.
  • can read PDF, e-Pub, and image files, not Word or TXT docs
  • turn page by tapping sides of screen OR use buttons on edges
  • Customizable sleep screens—create your own with personal photos
  • Reading Options:
    • Options accessed by tapping bottom of screen
    • 7 text sizes
    • 6 different typefaces (I think Amasis is the name of my favorite)
    • 3 choices for line spacing
    • 3 choices for margins
    • publisher default option
  • better navigation and interface
Kindle has some features that the Nook doesn’t have, but the Nook has a better design. Kindle has better Amazon phone support with a return policy, but Nooks can be serviced in any B&N store.
I still couldn’t decide between Kindle and Nook, so I looked at the stores:

Amazon versus Barnes and Noble

Though Barnes & Noble claims to have 2 million books available, that counts the free books, which Amazon also has. Amazon actually offers more books, but the difference is small, and those books offered on Amazon and not on B&N are more likely to be self-published books.

The decision-maker was which store had a better relationship with publishers. The answer? Barnes and Noble. (Read the New York Times article here.) Amazon might have cheaper books from time to time, but Barnes & Noble respects the publisher’s wishes. It might lead to some grumbling from cheapskate consumers like myself, but think about the price for a second here: by paying the publisher’s price, you are keeping the publisher alive. By keeping the publisher alive, you are keeping traditional publishing alive. By keeping traditional publishing alive, you are keeping book printing and quality control alive.

Now, I’m biased. As a designer, I’ll always prefer printed books to e-books because they are intentionally designed with intentional typefaces. As a tactile person, I’ll always prefer printed books. As a writer, I prefer traditional printing because traditional publishers 1) don’t publish as much crap and 2) get writers seen and their books read.

Do I have respect for people that can do self-publishing? Yeah, because it’s a lot of work. Do publishers sometimes reject awesome books? Yes—try a different publisher or find a better agent. Can publishers get greedy? Yes–go to the library if the book is too expensive.

But really, publishing is an industry, full of workers. Workers who deserve to be paid. It makes me SO MAD when I see people saying that “reading should be free for everyone.” One: It is, you idiots. Get a library card. Two: how would you feel if YOU didn’t get paid for your job?

Bottom Line

While the Kindle is easily the number one sold e-reader, popularity doesn’t necessarily mean superiority. Then again, I’m a Mac person, so of course I feel that way. Except in this case, the Nook is actually the cheaper option.

Nook isn’t called the “Simple” Touch for nothing. It has fewer gimmicks extras, and it’s much easier to use. The design is far superior, and I am supporting traditional book publishing by supporting Barnes & Noble.

Nook wins.

Update April 2012: Nook just released the NOOK Simple Touch™ with GlowLight™—SUPER long name, super cool gadget if you want to read at night. $139, same price as the Kindle without ads. Check out a review here. Preorder it here.