Regarding the structure of a plot and transformation of characters. How do short stories differ from novels. Which of these genres do you prefer?
A short story usually takes place during a smaller time period than a novel and usually deals with one major conflict. The rising action, climax and plot resolution occur rather quickly. Additionally, a short story usually has a minimum of characters and focuses usually on one of the characters instead for example, a whole family.
In a short story, the main character's transformation or 'revelation' as it is sometimes referred to, occurs in the resolution. The character has learned something about himself through the events that have transpired. In a novel, this process may take longer and may be a combination of experienced events which lead to the transformation of the main character.
This is not to say that short stories are less complex or somehow a lesser form of a novel, but they do differ usually in the pacing of the story: the way in which the rising action occurs and the resolution of the conflict.
On the difference between the two genres, one major difference would be length. With length an author can explore in more depth an element of style like description or use of dialogue. With a short story, the author must limit him or herself to one storyline. In a novel, an author can have many storylines, that together with an uniting idea, can make a whole. This is what Tan has done in Joy Luck Club.
As for which one I prefer, it depends on the story and my mood. Sometimes I want to read a quick read, other times I want to linger over a work.