Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13

If You Were a Literary Genre, Would You Be a Short Story or a Novel?


Your preference for a literary genre is probably defined by how you relate to space and time.

Among literary genres, the short story is the most biologic of them all. It is born, grows, reproduces and dies in a single breath. In a short and deep breath that is not panting like that of the novel, and is not succinct as that of the poem. The short story is an organic being, a seasonal plant.

But it is probable that the predilection for a literary genre is related to the spatiotemporal sense of each reader. There are those who feel more comfortable in a small room with high ceilings, and enjoy being there while a rain shower falls; and there are others who prefer open spaces, without limits or walls, and can enjoy the entire rain season from there. The first will feel more comfortable in the diegesis of the short story; the second in that of the novel. Short story lovers know that the intellectual commitment of reading a novel is always, as a trend, subject to disenchantment. Once the downpour is over, they will want to leave the room and occupy their minds in something else.

However, a story is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest happens when we leave the high-ceiling room and go out onto the street, carrying inside the ghost of that brief encounter with a simultaneous and contained world. An entire world in miniature. Some of the greatest storytellers of all time — Munro, Carver, Chekhov, Joyce, Irving, Foster Wallace, Borges, Poe or Mansfield— have made it clear that a good story requires the reader’s complicity, and in exchange, it will open a new realm for intuition.

In general terms, the greatest difference between the novel and the short story is that the latter requires the reader’s full attention; to each word and every phrase (it is recommended that you have nothing else to do). Paying attention, however, comes with a reward. As in life, each change in the plot, each inflection in the voice, each sentence, counts. Perhaps this will not lead us step by step to a world of comfort; but it will always grant us the promise of salvation or the risk of ruin. A good short story will unfailingly shake us.

Related Articles