It’s a puzzle

Welcome to the start of another week on the GWN blog. Today we have Agatha nominated author Kaye George talking about the differences between writing short stories and novels.

Here’s Kaye!

What’s the difference between writing a mystery short story and writing a mystery novel? A mystery is a puzzle, right? They both contain a puzzle to be solved, so they’re basically similar.

However, you can’t put as much into a short story as you can a novel, obviously. There’s not enough room!  I know some writers do only shorts and some do only novels, but a good number of us want to do both.

Here’s what I do. I have to switch my mindset when I change forms. Short story writing comes more easily to me. I’ve written short stories most of my life and only came to novel writing about ten years ago. Maybe it’s because I’ve done a lot more of them that I find short stories simpler to write. Not simple, just simpler!

I can hold an entire short story in my head. I can plot the whole thing, think up the characters, picture the setting, and get it from my brain to my computer without intermediate notes and scribbles. I’ll tweak it, of course, sometimes for quite a while after I’ve set it down, but I still have the whole thing in my mind at once. I liken it to fitting together a game of Tetris, or solving a Sudoku puzzle.

When I write a novel, however, I have to do a bunch of planning. It’s more like a chess game. I will note here that I don’t play chess well. The characters usually come easily and I can remember them. Likewise the basics of the plot. But the subplots and secondary characters have to be written down and kept track of. I can’t remember who is tall and who is short. Who is bald and who has flowing locks. I’ll forget what some of the settings look like. Then there’s the problem of what everyone is doing.

I’m somewhat of an outliner. Okay, I am an outliner, in that I make an outline before I begin writing a novel. That’s essential for me, even if the outline bears little resemblance to my finished book. I like to note, on a spreadsheet, the description of each character, their age, what vehicle they drive, and if they have any peculiarities. I also keep the plot on a spreadsheet, but more after the fact, to keep track of what I’ve written and what happens on which day and at what time–and to whom.

If I didn’t keep track of everything on a spreadsheet, a character might fall down a well in the afternoon, spend the night at home in bed, then discover the well the next morning. I could easily have a character drive up in a red pickup and go home in a beige Honda.

So, when I switch from one to the other, it’s a matter of resetting my thinking from small to large, from cinematic to TV episodic, from Tetris to chess.

About Kaye: Kaye George is a short story writer and novelist who has been nominated for Agatha awards twice. She is the author of four mystery series: the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas series, the Cressa Carraway musical mystery series, the FAT CAT cozy series, and The People of the Wind Neanderthal series.

Her short stories can be found in her collection, A PATCHWORK OF
STORIES, as well as in several anthologies, various online and print
magazines. She reviews for “Suspense Magazine”, writes for several
newsletters and blogs, and gives workshops on short story writing and
promotion. Kaye lives in Knoxville, TN.

Visit Kaye’s website:

About Eine Kleine Murder – When aspiring conductor Cressa Carraway arrives at her grandmother’s resort home, she finds Gram dead. When Gram’s best friend drowns in the same place, Cressa knows something sinister is at work in this idyllic setting.

Cindy here again!

Thanks for being here, Kaye. I find it difficult switching back and forth myself but I need to get used to it. I like the way you look at them.

Happy writing!




  • kaye george
    July 15, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Thanks for hosting me here today!

  • Patricia Gligor
    July 15, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I used to write only short stories but now I’m exclusively a novelist. Big transition!
    For my Malone mystery series, I have one outline for the characters and chronology in the series. I add to it with each new book. I also have a chapter-by-chapter outline for each novel. I envy people who are “pantsters,” who can sit down with a basic idea and just start writing. I’m not one of them. I’m a plotter – big time!

  • kaye george
    July 15, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Patricia, what made you change to novels? Do you miss writing short stories?

  • Evelyn Cullet
    July 15, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    I started out writing short stories, too. But now I find that I usually have so much to say, I can’t find a way to end them, and then they turn into novel.

  • kaye george
    July 15, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    I, too, started with short stories. But I’ll never quit writing them. I’m in the middle of 2 right now.

  • Jacqueline Seewald
    July 16, 2013 at 10:58 am

    Hi, Kaye,

    I know exactly what you’re talking about. I still write both short stories and novels. Like you, I have to switch gears. Short stories can be written at one sitting or close to it while novels require extensive planning and organization.

  • kaye george
    July 16, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    It’s fun doing both, isn’t it, Jacqueline? I can do some short stories in a sitting, but if I take 3 or 4 or 5 sessions for the first draft, they seem to turn out better. I give myself Saturday for short stories–kind of a busman’s holiday.

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