Why You Should Be Writing Short Stories

Some of the best writing advice I have ever received was given to me by an editor at World Fantasy Convention. Simply put, he said I needed to write short stories. His reasoning was that writing short stories will teach you craft better than jumping straight into novels will. Also, it will teach you how to actually finish a story. After slogging through two novels (both still incomplete) and then successfully completing six short stories, I can tell you that his advice certainly worked for me. And each story written was better than the last.

In a recent blog post, Kristine Kathryn Rusch gave similar advice, but for different reasons. She looks at the short form from a business perspective. I’d highly recommend reading her original post, but basically she said that the current market conditions, as well as the ability to reassume complete control of the rights of your story after a short amount of time, lend great potential to making a career of short story writing.

There are other reasons as well. If you write speculative fiction, you probably have plenty of notes, or perhaps even notebooks, of worldbuilding trivia, including some semblance of a history of your world. How many interesting stories can be mined from all this material? Chances are there are a few, and if you’re writing a series, these stories will also help draw new readers to those other works, and vice versa (which is the exact tack I’m taking with my short story collection and subsequent novel). An author whom I think has done a remarkable job with this method is Peter Orullian. Before his book was released, he published a few short stories related to the novel on Tor.com. I’m sure the stories helped generate more interest in the book than there would otherwise have been. It worked for me; I bought the book on release day based on the strength of those stories. Another advantage to writing stories about those events that otherwise exist only in your notes is that it could help flesh them out in your own mind, providing more concrete detail from which to draw for your novel.

I know what some of you are thinking: “I’m a novelist, not a short story writer!” I thought the same thing before. But then I gave it a shot, and now I’m a firm believer in short stories. While not everyone will get much out of writing them, it costs very little in the way of time, and the potential benefits are too great to ignore. Who knows? You might even like it.

8 responses on “Why You Should Be Writing Short Stories

  1. Evan Braun

    Good points. I’m definitely the kind of writer who says, “I’m a novelist, not a short story writer.” But when I looked through my worldbuilding notes, I can see at least half-dozen such stories which could probably be started and finished within a couple of weeks. Definitely something to think about.

  2. Frank Morin

    I’m definitely one of those ‘I’m a novelist’ writers. I wrote one short story for Writers of the Future and it was a great experience. I’m currently writing a second one, exploring the urban fantasy world I’m planning on writing a full length novel in at some point.

    I like the idea of writing those little stories out of the world building and back story. I’ll have to explore that for the two novels I’ve completed.

    Great post. Thanks

  3. Colette

    I echo the above sentiments. Another thing short story writing does for us novelists is help us fine-tune our pacing. Learning to make a story fit certain word-count parameters is invaluable for adjusting our word count in a chapter or over the course of an entire novel. Learning to write well and concisely is taught, I think, better by the short story than the much larger canvas of a novel or series.

  4. Will Granger

    Short stories also hep us to build our bookshelf. I believe it helps to have more books for sale. It just makes sense that the more books you have for sale, the more sales you can have.

  5. Lani Wendt Young

    This is excellent advice. Im a mother of 5 children .Yes theyre fabulous children ( most of the time!) but they do tend to get in the way of writing. Short stories are a great way for a busy mother to write, perfect her craft and get that fizzy cherry coke feeling of accomplishment when you finish a story. And then to get it published? Lots of fizzy cherry coke and fireworks.
    That novel will take a loooong time to get done. And so along the way, short stories really work for me. They are also an excellent way to build your writing profile. My short fiction has won international awards and been included in collections published in NZ, Aust, and the UK – which are a helpful (if tiny) nudge in the door of the novel publishing world. Oh, I’ve also found writing stories for children to be lots of fun. And they make money.

    Thanks for a great post.

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