Please give a warm welcome to guest blogger Paul Byers. I’ll review his science fiction short story collection Act of God in a few days.

Paper or Plastic

This is a question we get asked every day and as a writer, having written both novels and short stories, I often get asked the paper or plastic equivalent of which I prefer to write; full length novels or short stories?

There are pros and cons, similarities and differences between writing short stories and full length novels, and as a writer, I enjoy both. Both must have a good storylines and both should be built around honest, believable characters.

From the practical standpoint, short stories are popular for our busy lifestyles, allowing the reader to enjoy themselves without the commitment of a novel. As a writer, it is quicker to write, though not necessarily easier, plus it gives us a chance to break out of our usual genre and try something different.

I also like short stories because these days everything is go, go, go. You can take a moment to relax, escape the fast pace of life and be entertained without a big time investment. Shorts also let you travel to many different places, if you will, in a small amount of time.

For me, I find that one of the biggest draws as a writer for the short story is that you can take greater risks with the story line and get a greater pay off at the end. With the short, you can built it up relatively quickly and at the last possible moment, hang a sharp right with a surprise ending that you couldn’t do in a full length story. In a novel, you would either see the twist coming a mile away or else it would lose much of its punch.

As a writer, you also have more freedom in the short story when working with your characters. For example, you can kill off a main character, not necessarily for the shock value, but to put a greater twist to the story that the reader wouldn’t expect and that you couldn’t get away with in a full length novel.

But on the other side of the coin, one of the biggest drawbacks to some short stories is that you don’t have the time to fully develop your characters. You know who they are but not always what makes them tick. The novel, however gives you the room and freedom to fully develop your characters with backstories and motivations. It gives the reader the chance to connect with the characters, which gives the reader an emotionally stake in their lives.

Another drawback to the short story is that sometimes there is little room for a back story or painting descriptions that can really add and help set the mood of the story. Sometimes the surrounds the characters find themselves in is just as important as the characters themselves.

One thing that is the same when writing a story, whether long or short, is that the research is always very important and it has to fit the story. I love digging and poking around, finding little tidbits of information to throw into a story. For me, the hardest part is deciding how much to put in and how much to leave out, what is necessary for the story and what I think is just plain cool.

For example, in the short story, Shooting Star from Act of God, I discovered that the Saturn V rocket used to launch the Apollo Moon Missions and also our hero, Captain Grant weighs in at an amazing 5-6 million pounds. Now, contrast that to the Wright Brothers, Flyer which topped the scales at around 625 pounds. Another interesting fact is that it takes the space shuttle about 90 minutes to orbit the earth. The astronauts would see a sunrise or sunset every 45 minutes. Important to the story, some of it yes, most of it no, but all of it interesting.

So the question of paper or plastic, short story or novel is not a question of which is better, it’s more of a question of what you’re in the mood to read.

Paul Byers
Author of Arctic Fire and Catalyst
Contact email:
Act of God on