I’m thinking of doing a series of short stories about the same characters, along the lines of, for instance, Sherlock Holmes. What differences would you see in this as opposed to, say, a novel about these characters?
Thank you,Dave L
Hey Dave, great to hear from you again!
From a purely storytelling perspective, the main difference is that you need each short story to be more self-contained than, say, chapters in a novel. Each short story needs a conflict that can be introduced, built up, and resolved in just a few thousand words. While that’s also true with sections of a novel, because stories are fractal, short stories need to be weighted more toward resolving immediate problems. Any continuous plot needs to be far in the background.
For example: In a novel, you might have one scene where the immediate conflict is escaping a burning town, while the overarching plot is to defeat an evil pyromancer who set the fire in the first place. If you plot a short story that way, readers will be frustrated because it feels like the ending doesn’t actually resolve the most important conflict. “Why isn’t this chapter one of a novel?” they’ll ask.
Instead, you might have a short story about saving the residents of a burning town, then another short story about defeating a fire elemental, until the final story where the character discovers a single pyromancer has been behind everything the whole time. We have a few more posts that can help with this:
- Five Important Ways Episodic Stories Are Different
- Podcast: Episodic Prose Stories
- How to Write a Travel Story
However, there’s another major wrinkle to consider: how will this story be published? While novels and even novellas are typically published in a way that makes it easy to tell which you should read first, that’s not the case for short stories. Most paying outlets will publish your story in a weekly or monthly magazine, and readers could very easily read one without knowing the others exist.
In that situation, you not only need a plot that can be resolved in a few thousand words, you also need stories that can be read in any order. If readers need the first story to understand who the protagonist is, then they’ll be completely lost if they only happen to see the third story. This is why writing a series of short stories is so hard, and not something I’ve seen many authors actually do.
Of course, you could circumvent this by publishing the stories yourself. Then you could make sure the story order is clear and that each one is readily available. But you’d need your own platform to do that, and you wouldn’t get paid up front, so it’s a tradeoff.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your writing!