truepenny on the difference between short stories and novels.
When I'm trying to explain the difference between flash, short stories, novelettes, novellas, novels, and epics--and now I can say I've written them all!--it breaks down kinda like this.
Flash is an instant in time. One image, one central conceit, tight as a poem. They usually need a teethkick to have impact, because there's so little time to build up emotional resonance, so they rely completely on the squid.
Short stories only have room for a single arc, really. There can be more than one apparent arc--my monkey story plays this trick--but for the story to have a feeling of unity, the apparent arcs really have to be aspects of the same art. There's no crying in baseball, and no subplots in short stories. They also rely heavily on their symbolism and their hermetic tautness for their impact, which is why a really good short story can *haunt* you in ways novels just won't, even good novels.
Novelettes have room for a subplot. Maybe two. The thematic unity between the external and internal arcs still needs to be tight, though. You have a little more room to sidetrack, but things should still loop back tightly at the end, or it feels all funny and broken and sloshes around.
Novellas... They've got some room to spiderweb. The reason I never could pack "Lucifugous" down into a novelette, and why it needs more room to grow, still, is because I needed to demonstrate all these things about relationships and the various ways seduction works, and I needed the enough characters to show a range of those things, not just a dichotomy.
In novels, though, you get the room to wander, and have thematic digressions, and talk about different aspects of your theme, and show all the sides of the argument. And in epic novels, the really long ones, you can have a thematic fugue, intertwining thematic elements that discourse on a core topic. The Jenny books, for me, do some of that, where they talk about salvage, and God, and family, and responsibility, and finding and losing religion--and how all those things inter-relate. I couldn't have done that in 300 pages. I could have done *one* of those things, maybe two. But not all of them.
And that's what it's all about.
And this is the clue that Bear thinks in terms of structure and Truepenny thinks in terms of narrative. *g*