Festival of Books: Short stories differ from novels, but how exactly?

Regardless of subject matter, all novels are fundamentally about time, writer Jonathan Lethem says.

Lethem, bestselling author of "The Fortress of Solitude" and whose most recent book is "Lucky Alan: And Other Short Stories," talked about the differences between novels and short stories at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Sunday.


The panel also included short-story writers Aimee Bender, Kelly Link and Amelia Gray.

Lethem said short stories are similar to poems and essays in their precision; in a short stories, writers are trying to create something specific and unique, and each sentence matters more, he said.

By contrast, "every novel, in a way, has the same subject and that subject is time," he said. "Whatever your idea is, love or death, it's in relationship to time."

For a writer, novels are immersive and take years to write, creating a connection to time itself. And once it's finished, he said, "it's going to be taken in at different moments and thought about over a period of a week at least in the life of the reader."

Aimee Bender, whose most recent book, "The Color Master," was a New York Times Notable Book, said that for her, a short story can begin with a word, "a word as a little portal," that she'll try to explore.

A novel is more of an idea that "seems to have some life in it" that she writes around until she finds what she's looking for, she said.

Similarly, Amelia Gray, author of "Gutshot" and "Museum of the Weird," said short stories begin with a question, like a thought experiment, and novels begin more as an exploration of images.


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