Why every novel writer should dabble in short stories.
When I was little, I always thought of writing short stories as… lesser than writing novels. I’d be excited when someone said they were writers too, but when I found out they’d only written short stories, I was surprised and disappointed. That’s not real writing, my ignorant little mind would think. Real writers write novels.
Fast forward a decade. Apparently it took that long for me to realize the only rule is ‘real writers write.’
For novelists and other big project writers, though, it’s easy to feel a little guilty about writing a short story just for fun. If you have the time and energy to write, shouldn’t you be working on your project? (Or is that only me?) Rest easy: there are plenty of reasons dashing out a short story or four can help with your long-term manuscript.
Short Stories Cut the Fluff
There’s definitely something special about being able to finish a 70k+ novel. Not everyone will do it. But just because you can write 70k doesn’t mean it’ll be a good 70k, and it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be better as 50k or 40k. One of the most common complaints I read in reviews, especially of fantasy books, is that the book is ‘bloated.’ It’s so easy to stuff books full of unnecessary dialogue, backstory, and setting. Certain things become so important to writers that we can’t see what’s important to our story and what’s not.
With short stories, though, there’s no reason to insist the reader know such details. The world doesn’t live long enough to need fleshing out; all it needs is a good skeleton. Writing a short story is an excellent way to practice streamlining your writing.
Short Stories Finish Fast
Completing a novel takes time, at least a year for most writers. Short stories usually take a few days. It’s not quite as thrilling as writing ‘the end’ on your novel, but finishing anything is exciting. Sometimes you need that excitement to get through a tough spot on your project.
Short Stories Provide an Outlet
We’re writers. We have gallons of creative juices swirling around in our heads, begging to pour out onto a page. There’s just not enough time to let every story idea have its moment of glory. Short stories provide a way for some ideas to breath. When I was little, I thought every good idea I had needed to be a novel. No one has time for that, so I had tons of unfinished books. Now, if I have an idea that won’t leave me alone, I give it a small place to play. If it turns out to have more possibilities, I can always revisit it later. Orson Scott Card built a whole universe after writing a short story called Ender’s Game.
Even if your end goal is to be a published novelist (or script writer or whatever), that doesn’t mean you only need to write novels. Short stories are a great way to take a day off of your project. A month into editing your third draft, they might be the only thing that can remind you that writing is actually, (wait for it), fun. *gasp*