Skip to main content

Why You Should Write Short Stories


In some of his books, Kurt Vonnegut lamented the diminishing magazine market because that's where you found short stories. And short stories were the best place for writers to hone their craft. There are a lot of ways this system helped writers do this, and, in a culture with allegedly dwindling attention spans reign, short stories can still be a great place to learn.

But what should you be doing? What should you be looking to get out of short stories? How can they help?

Well, here's a list of ideas I have about the subject:

  1. Short stories are short - This might sound obvious, but there are a lot of layers to this one. In a format so short, it gives you a lot of room to stretch your creativity and try out new things without feeling chained to them. Sometimes, writing a novel or a screenplay, even one you love implicitly, can get to be sort of a slog. When you weigh taking new stylistic risks you might hate 20,000 words into a novel, you might not go for it. A short story, though, can get banged out in a day or three. Your time investment to try out an idea or a technique isn't as much, so you tend to allow yourself to experiment more.
  2. They can help you grow as a writer - Like I said: because short stories are short, they can serve as a testing ground for your most bizarre ideas. I've had no less than two short stories I've written serve as the basis for novels I went on to write. I just needed to try the idea out and see how it worked. Conversely, there are a couple of novels I wanted to write and tried the ideas out in short story form and found that there was a lot less there than I realized. 
  3. A better understanding of scenes - Short stories are a completely different format from books, but that's because they need to do as much in such an abbreviated space of time. Honing your skills in this format is going to help you understand how to effectively and efficiently block a scene, and scenes are the building blocks of novels. If you master short story, your novel is going to benefit from it.
  4. They're a good test run for novels - In a lot of ways, short stories are that first test run for how the business end of a novel is going to go. Submitting them, working with editors to refine them, taking them to publication, are good skills to practice before you take that step into novels. Maybe the concept you came up with wasn't great, but the character was fun to write, take them. Or maybe there's a detail or theme you hit on that you think could be expanded. There's no shortage of ways shorts can inform your novels.
  5. Relationship Building- This one is important. As you're submitting stories to anthologies (of which there are many now) and magazines and online zines and wherever else they're getting published, you're building a name for yourself. Not just with readers, though that's important, but with editors. They're keeping track of people who turn in good work, on time, and without a fuss. An editor will come back to you with more invitations for the next thing if you're easy to work with, follow the process, and get your stuff in on time. 
  6. Portfolio Building - If your readers like you, they are going to want more material from you. If you produce a short story every month on top of your normal output, you have an entire collection's worth of material at the end of the year. As some of you might be aware, I've been running a Patreon for short stories. I put out one a month. Now I have a backlog of them. One turned into a novel I ended up writing. A couple of them were placed in anthologies. I'm submitting a couple more. And when an anthology editor asks me, "Do you have something like this...?" The answer is usually yes.
  7. Palate Cleansing - Sometimes, you just need to write something outside of your usual comfort zone to stretch your creative muscles and a short story will do that. And try to write in different genres that aren't normal for you, because you can learn from them and smuggle that knowledge into your future projects. Sometimes, I just need to write something that feels vaguely like a romance. Or a horror. Or a comedy. Or a slice of dramatic Americana. This speaks partly to my second point, but this is also a good way to just get out of a rut before you embark on your next project.
  8. The satisfaction of a completed project - Nothing boosts my confidence as a writer more than seeing completed projects rack up higher than my word count. Seeing a list of stories (like the one I keep mostly updated on this website) is a huge motivator for me.  I've been adding to it since 2005. Start your own, now.
  9. They're fun - That seems like a simple reason, but it's true. Fun has to be part of the reason we write. 
Every time you write a story and finish it, you gain a level as a writer. The only way you learn is by writing stories and finishing them. Short stories help you gain levels (albeit shorter levels at higher increments) in a much quicker fashion than the novel. Try them out. Create. 

As for my short stories, you can check out my Patreon. For a subscription of $1 a month, you get a brand new short story from me and access to a backlog of short stories. After a year and a half of doing this, it's a steal.

--

As a reminder: Please join my short story Patreon here. Your contributions to the Patreon help me write more like this. When I hit 50 patrons, everyone will get a copy of Lost at the Con.

The Aeronaut and Escape Vector are still out and still need your purchases and reviews. If nothing else, they can use you telling people about them. If you want signed copies, visit the shop here on this page. 

Also! here's the full list of "rules and guidelines" I've been collecting over my years of studying writing advice and process. 

 As far as my work outside of all this: There's a lot of great stuff on Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith for you.

 And please, please, please don't forget to check out any of my books, drop reviews of them on Amazon or Goodreads, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Anatomy of an Opening: The End of the Affair

Instead of breaking down a scene from a movie, this time we'll break down the opening of a book. (Previously, I've done scenes from City Lights, Citizen Kane, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  I've also broken down the opening to Starship Troopers.

Graham Greene's The End of the Affair is absolutely one of my favorite books. The writing is lyrical and story heart-wrenching and beautiful. Greene's style of writing is such that he always has me gripped, whether it's the beginning of the book or the end. And he shows you so much about the character in his opening lines.

So, here are the first two paragraphs from the book:
A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which, to look ahead. I say 'one chooses' with the inaccurate pride of a professional writer who - when he has been seriously noted at all - has been praised for his technical ability, but d…

50+ Rules and Tips About Writing I've Collected Over the Years

I have twenty or thirty notebooks and journals filled up with snippets about writing, my plans for stories, bits of dialogue, interesting ideas, plotlines, scraps of short stories, and a dozen other things. I carry one with me at all times and it takes me a couple of months to fill one up.

One of the things I've kept in one of my notebooks was a collection of writing tips and rules that I've collected over the years in my travels. From teachers, from books, from wherever. Most of my career has been spent screenwriting, so a lot of these are most applicable to that, but I wanted to present them so they might be of use to you as well.

I've never stopped collecting these over the years and I never will.

To start the list are Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules of writing. They are the first in my notebook and, I think, the most useful. I'll add a star to those I think are applicable most to screenwriting. Some of these aren't applicable to everyone in every situation, but…

Anatomy of a Scene - City Lights

We're going to break down another scene this week, and it's one of my favorites in cinema history. It comes from the ending of City Lights by Charlie Chaplin, which I think is the greatest romantic comedy ever made. 
It's a touching film from 1931 and I would make it mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to learn to tell a story.
The scene we're going to be breaking down comes from the very end of the film, so if you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it for you. Go watch the film. You can rent it for $3.99 in HD on Amazon or for free on Hulu with a free trial or plus subscription. You should just buy the Blu-ray, though. You're going to want to revisit it.
For those of you familiar with the movie, or for those of you who are going to ignore my pleas to watch it and go ahead with this post anyway, I'm going to set this clip up a bit before you watch it.
City Lights tells the story of Chaplin's Tramp and how he falls in love with a blind flower …