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!


Popular posts from this blog

The Missed Opportunities of Days Gone By

“Hello?” I said into the phone, accepting the call from a number I didn’t recognize. “Hey,” the feminine voice on the other replied, as though I should know the sound of her voice. At a loss, I said, “Can I help you?” “It’s Brooke.” Her name stopped me. It couldn’t possibly be her. We hadn’t spoken in years, a decade perhaps. “Brooke?” “Yeah, Brooke Baker. This is Mark, right?” Jesus Christ. It was her. “Yeah, it is Mark. Brooke. Wow. How are you? It’s been a long time since… well… since anything.” “I know.” “So, how are you doing?” “Okay, I suppose…” Her voice belied her words, though. Something was up. “I… It’s just been so long and I guess I wanted to hear your voice.” “I don’t think I had a number for you. Ever. I offered a couple of times, but…” “I was a brat back then.” And that’s how a random phone call turned into a two-and-a-half hour catch-up session. We spoke of everything under the sun: people we still knew, how different we were, h

Anatomy of a Scene: The Third Man

It's time again to break down a classic scene. One that's well-written and, in my view, a fine example of excellent craft. I've done some of these articles from books (like The End of the Affair   and Starship Troopers ) and other movies (like Citizen Kane , City Lights , Raiders of the Lost Ark , and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ), but now it's time to take a look at a scene from The Third Man . It blends the best of Orson Welles (as he's in the film and drives this scene) and Graham Greene, who wrote this particular screenplay. Before we get to the scene, we need some context. The Third Man is a tale of the black market in Vienna, just after World War II. It's about a cheap, dime-store Western novelist named Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton) and his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles.) Lime offered Martins a job in Vienna, so Martins leaves America and arrives, only to find that Harry Lime is dead. Penniless, without a friend or reason to be

Anatomy of a Scene: All the President's Men

All the President's Men is one of those perfect movies. Based on a stunning true story with a brilliant screenplay from William Goldman (we've already gone through one of his scenes here with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid ), it's a movie that brings all of the elements of character, plot, and drama together in a way that makes me really love and admire it.  The scene I want to go through is one that comes during a particularly trying time in the film. For those unaware, this film tells the tale of Woodward and Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who cracked the Watergate story. And now, looking back on it, it all feels like one big victory, but it was marked by a number of defeats.  This is them reporting to their skeptical editor, Ben Bradlee (played brilliantly by Jason Robards) about where their investigation is at. Immediately preceding Woodward and Bernstein walking in, a salesman is trying to sell Bradlee on features his papers doe