What's the difference between a novel and a story?
A story is shorter.
Funny joke. I know, I know, don't quit my day job as a writer to to become a comedian, right?
The truth of the matter is, a short story is a lot shorter than a novel, and that makes all the difference. For starters, every word and every sentence must count in a story. That doesn't mean that you novelists get to slack and not worry about words and sentences, it just means that stories are more like poems in that every word must count.
A story also has to reach a pinnacle of some sorts. Of course, a novel must also, but the novelist has 300 or so odd pages to accomplish this while the short story writer might have 20 if she is lucky. In a story, either the character changes, or he reaches the "last chance to change" as the famous editor Rust Hills called it, and decides not to change. Something happens over the course of the story (or else there wouldn't be a story) and your character either changes because of that, or decides not to change, consciously, or more likely, unconsciously.
Why am I pondering the elements of a short story? Because I've actually been working on one, for the first time in quite awhile. My friend and colleague Linda Parker is putting together an anthology of Christmas stories and essays, and I'm adapting a chapter from my first novel for it.
Story is a topic that endlessly fascinates me, and because of this, I'm going to devote a feature article on my first newsletter to it. That will be coming out next week, after I return to Nashville, and if you want to get on the newsletter mailing list, just sign up on the handy little box to the right.