Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Short Story Versus Novel

A short story usually has only one problem to be solved. And a relatively easily solved problem at that. Novels often have an overarching problem—something big, such as death of a parent, or not fitting in, a mystery from their past to solve, etc. But there often are other problems along the way. The character must keep solving in a novel. Not one and done as a short story does.

Your story can cover a short time period or a long period and still be a novel, but the longer the time period, the more likely the story is a novel. Short stories exist in a short time period, often one day or less. They are more like a snapshot than a two-hour movie. A short story can be one scene or a few. A novel will usually be many scenes.

Similarly, setting is often different between the two. It’s easy to have a short story resolve in one setting, one place. More difficult to do so with a novel. Think of how many novels, even if they aren’t about a journey, don’t stay in one room, or one house, but have indoor and outdoor settings, and often a variety of those. Of course that all affects how much description there will be.

In a short story, you won’t go as deep into your main character. You’ll probably show only one flaw in the character, not many. The same with skills, desires, dreams. The short story focuses on one aspect of a character’s life. One situation. A novel will do much more.

Think of a novel like a TV series. I’m watching one now. As I go along I’m getting tidbits of the character’s past. I want to know more of what’s happening in his life now, and in the past, so keep watching and get to learn both. In a novel and a TV series, I don’t get a full info dump of the character’s past—only what I need to know now for this scene. In a novel, I want to know more of both the character’s future and past so keep reading. In a short story I’m pretty content with what happens here and now with the character. I don’t need or want the depth. Lorrie Moore says, “A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film.”

Short stories don’t usually have subplots and backstory on the page is very limited. Novels often have both. More characters can work in a novel where the same number would be overwhelming in a short story. It’s also unlikely for a short story to have multiple viewpoints.

I like this quote from Sophie Playle, “A novel is a journey – not only for the characters, but for the writer and the reader.” A journey takes commitment versus a short trip to the grocery store.

These reasons are why I’ll write on student short stories, “novel topic” or “This problem can’t be solved in a short story.” If you can’t personally imagine solving the problem in a short amount of  time, then your character can’t either, so think novel, not short story.

Posted in PB, So Many Good Books

People Are Wild

Perfect Picture Book Friday

I love a story that turns a concept upside down. And that’s what People Are Wild (Alfred A. Knopf, 2022) by Margaux Meganck does. Instead of the story being told from a child looking at animals, the animals are looking at people.

Words and art are a great match. It’s hard to choose a favorite spread because I loved them so much. I also like the variety of animals and how there is more information about them after the story ends. It’s nice to see diversity in the human characters too.

This is Margaux’s first picture book she has illustrated and written. Previously, she illustrated Kathy Wolff’s All We Need.

Read more about the author/illustrator here.

Posted in Craft, PB, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Creative Picture Book Formats

The other day I was helping a friend edit a fiction picture book and we were talking about how layout of the language can give a different feel.

To demonstrate I opened up my quote file and found this one by Tana French, “Don’t get discouraged if you’re hammering away at a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter, and it keeps coming out wrong. You’re allowed to get it wrong, as many times as you need to; you only need to get it right once.”

Look at it written as a poem:

“Don’t get discouraged
if you’re hammering away
at a sentence
or a paragraph
or a chapter,
and it keeps
out wrong.
You’re allowed
to get it wrong,
as many times
as you need to;
you only need
to get it right

– Tana French

I loved the quote in the first place, but I love it as poetry even more.

Let’s think about this specifically in regard to picture books. Will a poetic format add to your story? (I’m not talking about rhythm and rhyme particularly, although that is a possibility.) Or is there another format that will benefit your story?

One that comes to mind is Gretchen McLellan’s No Party Poopers! where the story is only written in dialogue with no tag lines, beats, or description.

Or an oldie Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague. The opening has a newspaper clipping, then come the hilarious letters. These books are called epistolary.

Author Doreen Chronin has a series of bug diaries. Will journal format work for your story?

I was stunned when I read Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer where you read the poems one way and then the opposite.

Then there’s the cumulative story where each line builds from the line before. The poem “This Is the House that Jack Built” may have inspired this type of tale.

You might find Karin Lefranc’s list of picture book genres interesting.

I like stretching my mind about how stories can be written. If you know of different picture book formats, please share in the comments.

Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

How Well Do You Word?

Use Microsoft Word, that is. Last month, I discovered several of my critique partners were using spaces instead of indents or tabs. And one was using spaces to center titles. I’ve seen this with students too. Two also weren’t familiar with the right tab. (Standard tab is a left aligned tab.)

Blue dots above are individual spaces. Backwards “P” (¶) is a paragraph mark or hard return (enter). (Word may show these dots and symbols as gray instead of blue.) See how there are spaces before the word “Text” and an extra space between the words “line” and “breaks?”

What’s the big deal? First, the writers were creating more work for themselves by not using the tools of the word processor. Second, they were perhaps creating more work for those receiving the manuscripts. It’s a pain to convert all those extra spaces. Though if you’ve got extra spaces, Find and Replace works wonders.

How did I find it? The show/hide option on the menu that is a backwards paragraph. It shows each space, paragraph mark (aka manual line break or manual return), etc. It’s especially helpful when needing to change column or page breaks. I don’t type with it on—only use it when I think there’s something strange.

Learn some shortcuts to make word-processing easier. Most of us are self-taught and only use Word to type, but we can do more. If you’ve ever thought, there ought to be a better way, it may already be there. You can find out how to do most anything in Word within Word’s Tell Me or Help option. You can search in Microsoft Support. Or you can google your question.



Great for moving a section over, such as a long quote or indenting side material or for use in a novel-in-verse. One writer was doing informational fiction. Each page has story text and fact text. Using indents on the facts, made it stand apart from the story itself. It would take over 20 spaces each line to get the result below versus highlighting a section and clicking three time on indent.

Or another possibility would be to set a left tab exactly where you want the section to start. (It can be set on your ruler or in Format, Tabs.)

Right aligned tab

It’s a great way to put genre or your word count on your manuscript on the right of the page while still having text on the left. See how neatly picture book and the word count are right aligned? If you have ruler turned on, you’ll see that there is an indicator that a right tab is set. (Standard tabs or indents are ½ inch unless you change them.) I’ve only changed the tabs in this section—not my entire document.

The arrows above indicate a use of the tab key.

How do you find out how to do any of these?

  • Word – click on the word help or the lightbulb on your menu and type what you’re looking for: how do I set a right tab in the search box, and click on “Smart Lookup.” A window will pop up with a number of “how to” article links.
  • Microsoft Support – go to the website and type: how do I set a right tab, then press return (enter). A window will pop up with directions and other suggestions below.
  • Google – in the search bar type: how do I set a right tab in Word, then press return (enter). You can choose from written directions and videos. In your search you can even specify which version of Word you have, e.g. Word 2019.
  • Get a friendly nerd to show you. For example, I zoomed with my critique partners.

I hope this Word lesson has been helpful. Let me know if you have questions.

It’s just as hard to write a bad novel as it is to write a good one. And if a writer does come up with a manuscript worthy of publication, it is assured that many pages of unpublished material have preceded it.
Harper Lee

It’s just as hard to