What is a novel in stories?

What is a novel in stories?

Shade of the Morning Sun is a novel in stories (or novel-in-stories), but what exactly is that? Editor Maurice Beaulieu from NobleCopy.com explains it better than I could ever do, so I hope he will forgive me for quoting him at length:


“The novel-in-stories. The short story cycle. Linked stories. All three titles reference the same type of work of fiction that tells individual narratives that faintly connect to each other as a whole. What are the characteristics of a novel-in-stories and how are they able to tell a different story than a typical novel?

A Novel-in-Stories is about Structure

To a reader of fiction who may not know better, a short story cycle or novel-in-stories may appear as just another collection of short stories. And they have a decent argument. Each short story is independent of the other. And likely covers a plethora of topics. So, what is the difference?

Well, the novel-in-stories is practically the same, but it has characteristics that link the individual stories together, ever so faintly, on purpose. This purposeful linking is what contorts the structure from nothing to something …

Think of it as a quasi-novel. Its loose structure and obscurity make the reading more simplistic and brief

What it Needs

The one element that a short story cycle MUST have is the beginning, middle, and end. 

Remember, each story must act independently of the other. During the story, they can have one or two connections to another story, but they need to tell a full, complete story by the end of the chapter/story. That is mandatory. Without it, the stories become one and eventually turn into a novel. 

The Connecting Vein (the most important part!)

So, what truly qualifies a short story cycle from a novel?

The stories must have a physical connection. Through characters, objects, themes or settings, the collection will morph into a cycle or a novel-in-stories. But there is a catch to this. 

The connection must be brief, yet always around. Vague, yet important. This is not as hard as it might sound. Some novel-in-stories have a returning character that never gets a proper story of his or her own, but makes quality appearances in all the stories. Even if the revolving character doesn’t appear in the story, other characters might reference them, allowing the reader to see the connection.

Another way is through setting. As with Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio,” the cycle follows a returning character while in a familiar setting: the small city. Anderson’s story cycle shows the reader what it means to exist in a small town. And he gives you quick glimpses into their lives just long enough.

Another way to connect stories is through the theme. However, some could argue (rightfully so) that the theme still only qualifies it as a collection. For the sake of this article, let’s just call a theme a proper connection. That would mean each story would involve different characters, have different plots, but they would connect…by a romance theme…or by a horror theme. Get it? I am not totally convinced a literary agent wouldn’t classify a work like that as a collection instead of a novel-in-stories. “


Read more and watch Maurice’s great video on the subject here.

So where does Shade of the Morning Sun fit in?

Now, the above definition comes with a few modifications in the case of Shade of the Morning Sun.

First and foremost, Carrie is the protagonist through most of the stories, so it is akin to a series – albeit still loosely connected. But this is mostly a function of me not having had the time (yet) to write more stories about Jon, for example (Carrie’s husband) or her (deceased) friend from college, Lin Christakis. I also have a few stories from the POV of Emma and Michael (Carrie and Jon’s children) and I definitely plan to do more of those.

Second, Shade of the Morning Sun is thematically linked, arguably, but on a very general level. It is about Carrie (and her family and her friends) and their attempts to navigate the ‘mess of life’, even though many of them (well, all of them, in fact) are ‘damaged goods’. I consider that thematical connection very general, though.

More specifically you have Carrie, in adult life, struggling with depression and a sense of being stuck midlife, without ever having realized her dreams, but there are also a lot of stories from her youth with a different emphasis. If the stories were written with totally different protagonists, but some of the same themes, I’d probably call it a short story collection only and not linked, as Maurice also notes above.

Anyway, feel free to read some Shade of the Morning Sun-stories yourself and let me know what you think!

Famous and recommended novels in stories

I’ve made another page where I try to list some of the best known novels in stories, as well as give my own recommendations. Check it out!

Dreams of electric literature

Shade of the Morning Sun is, at a deeper level, also electronic literature, although in time you will find Shade-stories in many other forms, including print. That is definitely the ambition. But if you want to learn more about what electronic literature is, I have an introduction here.