What’s the Difference Between a Story and a Novel?

Understanding the difference between a story and a novel might seem complex, but it comes down to a few distinguishable aspects such as length, complexity, and the amount of backstory involved.


Length can serve as the most clear-cut difference between a story and a novel. Generally, a novel tends to have a word count ranging from 50,000 to 70,000 words or more, designed to occupy the reader for a prolonged period. On the contrary, stories often referred to as short stories, fall within the 1,000 to 10,000 word mark, meant to be consumed in a shorter span.

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The complexity is another pivot on which stories and novels differ. A novel is a complex narrative involving numerous characters, settings, and time spans, along with well-developed subplots. Stories, however, follow a single story thread and often revolve around a singular event.

Type of Story

The type of story being told can also dictate whether your work is a story or a novel. Long stories need larger or more complex ideas to justify that length. On the other hand, a short story might just revolve around a simple subject like a trip to the grocery store.

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Setting and Characters

Moreover, the number and complexity of characters in a work provide a hint. Short stories generally have fewer characters or just one main character, while novels often have larger casts of highly developed characters. Similarly, setting, whereby novels often require elaborate scene settings that take considerable length to develop, versus stories that often unfold in familiar or simply explained settings.

The Writing Process

Lastly, understanding your personal writing process can help determine whether you are naturally inclined to write longer or shorter narratives. Are complex backstories, multi-faceted characters, and intricate subplots your forte? Or are you adept at capturing a moment in time, focusing on a singular event or character? Answering these questions might lead you to your preferred writing form.

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In conclusion, the main differences between a short story and a novel emerge from the length, complexity, type of story, setting, and the number of characters involved in your narrative. Recognizing these differences can guide you in shaping your writing ideas into the form that most naturally suits them, being it the snapshot of life captured in a story or the extensively painted world in a novel.

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