Many writers are keen to get going on a novel, and if that is your passion there is nothing wrong with that. But in this post I’d like to shine on a spotlight on a form that is often overlooked – the short story.
A short story is generally any work of fiction with a word count of 1500 – 7500 words. These boundaries aren’t set in stone, but anything less is generally deemed flash fiction, while anything higher is generally a novelette.
Short stories are a form in their own right. Because they are short, the plot must be tightly focussed, every word must count. There is an art to telling a story in such a compact way.
So how can writing short stories help us as writers?
First of all, it is a great way to hone your skills. In fact, it is possibly unparalleled in its ability to develop all the areas of your craft in a short space of time:
Hone your skills
Through writing short stories, if you follow the whole process from idea to finished draft you will get practiced in all the areas of telling a story. For example, you will learn how to:
- Develop an idea into a viable story.
- Create a character arc.
- Bring characters to life on the page and make them compelling and believable.
- Create a plot with beginning, middle and end.
- Write concisely.
- Bring setting to life.
You will also:
- Get used to writing different styles of dialogue.
- Get used to finishing a first draft.
- Learn how to revise work and edit.
But the best thing about writing short stories is that because they are short, you can write lots of them. Each time you write one you can try something new:
Try different things
- Use a different point of view e.g. 1st person rather than 3rd person limited.
- Write in a different tense e.g. present instead of past.
- Try a new genre e.g. ghost story rather than romance.
- Work on a specific aspect of the craft e.g. character, plot, dialogue or setting.
In the time it takes to write a novel, you could have written many short stories, trying different things each time. Or, if you can, at least write some short stories alongside your novel – your skills will improve and your novel will be the better for it.
Get your work out there
Once you have a finished draft, you may wish to get your work out into the world. You can submit short stories to competitions or to magazines which publish the form. By doing this you will:
- Learn how to put your work into manuscript format (take care – many organisations request specific formats. Read their rules.).
- Get used to sending work out into the world.
If your story is accepted then congratulations! The act of publication will get your name out there and establish you as an author. It gives you credibility; for example you can mention it on a cover letter when you submit your novel.
If your short story is not accepted, that’s fine too. Yes it’s down-heartening, but the truth is that competitions and magazines get many more submissions than they can ever publish; so you are going to get rejected. Many times. It’s part of the process and rather than worrying about it, let it spur you on.
You may decide you prefer writing short stories rather than your novel, in which case – great! Short story writers are just as skilled and just as vital to the literary world as novelists.
One last thing – I can’t recommend enough that you read as many short stories as possible. Only by reading them do you really gain an understanding of the form and a feel for what its potential is. And we need more readers to support short story magazines and buy collections.
So I hope I’ve encouraged you to consider the short story. Now go and get writing!