Derringer Award winning author Earl Staggs has seen many of his short stories appear in magazines and anthologies. He served as Managing Editor of Futures Mystery Magazine and as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.
His novel MEMORY OF A MURDER featuring Adam Kingston is available at most bookstores or online at www.cmptp.com, Amazon and B&N.
For a signed copy of MEMORY OF A MURDER or for a free copy of the first Chapter, write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“What’s the difference between writing novels and short stories?”
“One’s bigger than the other.”
I don’t mean a novel is bigger only in number of pages. The story is bigger. There are more characters, more depth in the development of those characters, more plot twists and complications, and there are usually sub-plots. The emphasis is as much on the characters and how the plot impacts their lives as it is on the plot itself, sometimes more so.
To illustrate this, let’s take a simple plot and outline it first as a novel. Then we’ll come back and use the same plot as a short story.
Here’s the simple plot: Betty Brown, a wife and mother, is murdered in her home. There are no signs of robbery, no DNA evidence or fingerprints in the house other than family members, leaving no obvious motive or suspects. Homicide Detective Todd Taylor is assigned to the case.
Bill Brown, the victim’s husband, automatically becomes the primary suspect. During his investigation, Todd learns Bill and Betty had marital problems, and Betty was having an affair with a neighbor, Steve Smith. Todd now has two more suspects to investigate. Perhaps Betty wanted to end the affair, Steve objected, and in a fit of rage, killed her. Steve’s wife, Sandy, may have found out about the affair and killed Betty.
Bill and Betty’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Brittany, left home because of the tension between her parents. Todd feels Brittany has crucial information about the murder and finds her living with a rough gang, drinking, and on the way to ruining her life.
In Todd’s personal life, his wife talks about leaving him, and his ten-year-old son barely speaks to him at all. Both claim he spends too much time being a cop.
Now we have a cast of characters, Betty’s murder as the primary plot with three viable suspects, sub-plots involving the runaway daughter, the extramarital affair as well as Todd’s problems at home.
How does it all work out? With information provided by Brittany, Todd proves Bill Brown killed his wife Betty when he found out about the affair, resolving the main plot. But what about those sub-plots? Todd helps Brittany get her life back on track. Steve and Sandy Smith divorce. After revealing looks into the failed marriages of the Browns and the Smiths, Todd takes a hard look at his own and resolves to work harder at it. He’s also seen, with Brittany, how children get on the wrong path without proper role models at home, and commits to being a better father. The sub-plots have provided a character arc for Todd.
To develop the same plot as a short story, only the main character (Todd) will have any depth and the plot is less complex. In a short story, while there can be exceptions, there is usually one event requiring resolution (the crime), the path toward that resolution (the investigation), and the resolution itself (the solution).
We’ll toss out the sub-plots involving Steve and Sandy Smith and Brittany except to say Betty was having an affair with a neighbor. The only sub-plot we’ll keep is that Todd’s wife nags him about spending so much time at work.
In our short story, Todd proves Bill Brown killed his wife because of the affair. He also comes to terms with his own marital problems and promises to be a better husband.
So there we have the same plot developed as both a novel and a short story. Same killer, same victim, same resolution. The difference is. . .
. . .one’s bigger than the other.