One-Minute Book Reviews

January 14, 2008

What Is the Difference Between a Novel and a Short Story? (Quote of the Day/Orson Scott Card)

Science fiction writer Orson Scott Card won the 2008 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement from the American Library Association this week for his novels for teenagers, Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow. Here he talks about the difference between a novel and a short story:

“A novel isn’t a half-dozen short stories with the same characters. The seams invariably show. Why? Because a novel must have integrity. The novel, no matter how dense and wide-ranging it might be, must have a single cumulative effect to please the reader. Every minor climax must point toward the book’s final climax, must promise still better things to come …

“Ideally, a short story is an indivisible unit – every sentence in it points to the single climax that fulfills the entire work. One moment in the story controls all the rest. But in a novel, that single climax is replaced by many smaller climaxes, by many side trips or pauses to explore. If you keep shaping everything to point to that one climax, your reader will get sick of it after a hundred pages or so. It will feel monotonous. To keep the reader entertained (i.e., to keep him reading) you must give him many small moments of fulfillment along the way, brief rewards that promise something bigger later.”

Orson Scott Card in “To Make a Short Story Long …” in Legends of Literature: The Best Articles, Interviews, and Essays From the Archives of Writer’s Digest Magazine (Writer’s Digest Books, $19.99), edited by Phillip Sexton.


  1. The difference comes out beautifully in these few lines….though I knew them all along, it helped to see them summarized so well.

    Comment by damyantig — January 14, 2008 @ 11:25 pm | Reply

  2. Card expressed it well, didn’t he? I especially liked his comment about how one moment in short story “controls” all the others. It’s one of the pithiest definitions I’ve read of how a short story actually works.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — January 15, 2008 @ 12:58 am | Reply

  3. […] have written short stories to run into this phenomenon even if they have read widely. For example, Orson Scott Card himself hit this problem with his first novel; and he was an award-winning short story writer at the […]

    Pingback by naperwrimo » Blog Archive » First week blahs — how to fix them — November 7, 2010 @ 1:02 pm | Reply

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