Which do you prefer? Short stories? Or full-length novels?
I’m going to hedge a bit here and say, it depends. As long as the author gets the chance to tell the story he or she wants or needs to tell, then the length of it (in terms of page or word count) doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve read some profoundly moving short stories over the years and I think that it takes a special ability to truly craft one. You have to really get to the heart of what you’re trying to tell and just tell it to the readers. (I took a fiction writing class in college and wrote short stories for it..it’s a lot harder than it looks).
It all comes down to how effective the story is. If you can tell the story in a short story, do it. If it needs to be a novella, so be it. If works best as a longer book, that’s fine also. Again, it depends on the intent and the story being told. I find myself reflecting on the Sherlock Holmes mysteries which, I think, worked better with the character in short stories than they did as full length novels. “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is generally the Holmes story given to middle and high school readers for their introduction to Holmes, which I find ironic. It was my point of entry and I enjoyed it, but looking back it’s not the strongest Holmes story and it doesn’t feature a whole lot of Holmes in the actual narrative.
That said, I think there is something to be said for knowing how and where your story will end. One of my huge pet peeves with sci-fi and fantasy series are those long, seemingly never-ending sagas that feature a multitude of characters and a bunch of tangents that have no relation to the overall story or offer anything to the universe. I can accept character building or world building (provided you don’t pull a Tolkein and describe every leaf on every tree) as long as it has a point and is relevant to the story. A sidetrip just to pad out a story bugs the fire out of me.
I recently re-visited Richard Matheson’s “Duel” as an audio book (paired with an homage story by Stephen King and Joe Hill) and was struck by how incredibly effective it was because of its economy of length. It effectively tells the story of a man’s descent into obsession, paranoia and madness over the course of an afternoon drive with a truck from hell. The story puts all the pieces in place and slowly erodes them, giving us enough of a character glimpse of Mann to be effective but not feeling like it has to fill in his whole backstory. It was easily as compelling as many longer novels I’ve read and yet it’s a relatively short reading or listening experience.