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Novelists Should Write Short Stories

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

Some people are naturally inclined toward writing a short story or two. That’s just how their brains work best: They capture moments in a character's timeline with the same skill other writers use to detail a week’s or month’s or year’s adventure.

I don’t know about you, but I'm not one of them. I’ve only ever written one short story I’m proud of: a futuristic piece about virtual reality. (Incidentally, I wrote it well before virtual reality was a talking point, much less mass produced.)

Give me a novel concept, and I can knock it out of the park. Under the right conditions, writing 100,000 words is no problem whatsoever. I can type that out in three months easy.

But writing a short story? To me, that’s an impossible-sounding feat.

Impossible-sounding, mind you. Emphasis on the "sounding." Yet not, in fact, impossible.

That’s an extremely important distinction to make for any novelists who cringe at the very thought of being so brief. Novelists like me.

I already mentioned something like this while blogging about flash fiction earlier this month. But it’s worth applying to this topic as well.

Writing a short story can hone your novel-writing skills.

You might not enjoy the process. You might even downright despise the results. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be better off for the experience.

Try writing a short story, regardless of whether you’re so inclined or not.
Short stories might not get the same literary attention as their more bulky big sisters and brothers. But don’t discount them just because they’re short. Constructing even one in your whole entire lifetime can sharpen how you handle everything from setting to sentence structure.
Since short stories are limiting (though not as limiting as they could be) in the space they allow, writers have to think more carefully about their craft, constantly asking if there’s a better way to say what they want to say.

Finding a better way to say what you want to say doesn’t always come down to knowing the tricks of the trade. This isn’t one of those challenges to eliminate the word “very” from your writing, advice I believe isn’t “very” helpful anyway.

But we novelists do have a bad tendency of getting wordy. I’ll be the first to admit as much, particularly when I was editing my last published novel, Proving America, for my usual appalling amount of “ly”-ending adverbs.

I really thought I’d done better that time around, but that just didn’t turn out to be the case.

You might not suffer from that particular writing affliction. Maybe you use “just” too much instead. Or perhaps you have a bad habit of repeating information.

Whatever it is, writing a short story can probably help you curb the issue, forcing you to better consider your words and sentences to stay within a much smaller word count.

Again, I’m certain I made similar arguments for flash fiction. Which you might have ignored, spurning the very idea of constricting your storytelling so tightly.

(If you did, I can’t judge. I refuse to touch it either, though that’s because I’m a coward.)

But there’s a difference between writing a short story and writing flash fiction: a difference of at least several thousand words. Remember that short stories take up two to 33 single-spaced, size 12 Times New Roman-font filled pages.

That’s one to 32 more pages than flash fiction allows.

In other words, you have no excuses. Or at least not as many. So go write a short story already.

And when you do, let me know whether you found it worthwhile. My bet is that you will.

Editor’s Note: Read the next post on writing short stories here.

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