Why Write Short Stories?

At the 2011 World Horror Convention, I went to a panel called Why We Write Short Stories. When people used to talk about being a short form or long form writer, I had no idea where I fell into those categories or if I had a preference or the skills for one or the other. I started off with short stories as a way to get myself back into writing and sold a few, but I have come to discover I prefer writing novels. Author Guest of Honour, Joe Hill was on the panel at the convention as well as some other great short story writers. No one claims you’ll get rich from writing short stories (not that novels will get you there either) and in a time where short story markets seem to come and go, are there still important reasons to write short stories? This was an interesting panel for me, and I thought I’d share what I learned there with you.

Suzanne Church, a Canadian author said it was a way for her to build a brand and said, “I want people to know my name.” Short stories can lead to many opportunities to do appearances, signings and readings that wouldn’t happen if you’re locked away working exclusively on novels that take a lot longer to finish, perfect, submit and publish.

Brad Sinor said short stories are a great way to teach ourselves about making a deadline. He also said the longest distance for a writer is from the brain to the page, which I thought was a fantastic line. Just get it down, he told us. He also told us that Roger Zelazny would always write a short story about his main character to get to know them. I think that’s a great reason to write a short story, to improve your novel!

Joe Hill said for him, the short story form is the “great classroom.” He told us he spent three years writing an epic fantasy that didn’t sell, and then wrote short stories because he needed to learn the skills of writing (dialogue, etc) faster. If you haven’t read Joe Hill’s short stories I highly recommend them. They are incredible.

I thought I’d written my last short story and had turned to focusing on novels, but lately I’ve gotten the bug to submit to a great anthology and I can’t seem to resist the call. I want to do it because it promises to be a lot of fun, but should I be focusing on short stories? I think perhaps I should keep an open mind and continue to work on both the long and the short form to continue to improve my craft and to keep challenging myself.

Are you a short form or long form writer? Do you write both but prefer one over the other? Are writers naturally one or the other? What are your own reasons for writing short stories?

 

 

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  • I haven’t really resolved what form is best for me, but I do know that I recently wrote a short story whose protagonist is (very politely, in his most Oxonion tones) asking for his own book!

    • Aha! Yes! Some of my Taos classmates wanted me to turn a short story I workshopped into a novel (premise, character, setting etc) and I’m seriously thinking about it!

      • Fran Wilde

        Some of us still want you to do that! /watchcheck, /toe-tap…

  • I think I get different things out of both, but I probably think of myself more as a short fiction writer at this point. A novel offers more complexity and a different set of challenges, interactions, and structures, not to mention a longer term goal. But some short stories just fly into the keyboard and give you that great sense of “hey, I finished something!” really fast.

  • I write both. After finishing a draft of a novel, it’s nice to sit down with a plot that can be contained in a few pages. Also, publishing is slow. If I was only working on novels, I’d have one or two projects out at a time. With short stories, I have more than a dozen. Waiting is easier when the eggs aren’t all in one basket. Lastly, I enjoy reading short fiction — so why shouldn’t I write it?

  • Hi, I’ve only had short stories (100 words and up) published as a creative writer. They are what I have the time and space for in my head for. I’ve never thought of them as preparation for a novel, since I see novel writing as requiring different skills – or at least a better memory and ability to wrangle a lot of words, pages and characters. Sometimes short stories aren’t really cooked for publishing for years, other times they are dashed off in a couple of hours and are ready to go. I’ve also quite recently realised I’ve had a steady consumption of short stories all my reading life, whether in fashion or not, so it has always felt like a natural fit to write them. It’s not a living, but it makes everything else more worthwhile.

  • I started out writing short stories, mainly because well meaning people were horrified at the thought of a little girl trying to write novels. I stopped writing them at one point because I wasn’t finding any paying markets and too many of the non-paying ones made it sound like they were doing you a favor to publish you. I also thought what I was doing in short stories was causing problems with my ability to produce a novel (it was not exactly). They certainly became a procrastination tool when I got stuck on the novel. I’ve recently come back to them with a different attitude. I need to get my name out there, even if it’s non-paying. But I’m also working at balancing writing them with writing novels.

  • For me, the story really dictates the length. I enjoy writing the novels in my series but every now and then I just get an idea that needs writing down – and those often end up as short stories or the inspiration for a short story. I post my shorts up to my website as freebies so people can sample my work.

  • Chris East

    I think it’s a rare writer who is equally good at novels and short stories; people tend to gravitate one way or another. But it is possible. I focused on short stories exclusively for years, and I do think it’s a great classroom. But I’m thinking novels may be a more natural fit for me. (I sure hope so…!)

  • Dan Bracewell

    Boy, I wish I COULD write more short stories. It is really difficult for me to come up with an idea that is not novella size or larger. I like exploring my characters and world and my plots are often more complex. That means more pages. I am really, really trying to puzzle this thing out. Thanks for this post!