Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 30, 2014

6 Reasons to Write a Short Story

Happy Friday to all our friends here at WITS! We're doing some extra special posts this week as an advance thank you for helping us migrate to our new site next week. All will be unveiled on Monday!

Today our pal, Julie Glover, is here. *Jenny jumps up and down* Here's an example of why she's one of our favorite peeps. When we told her y'all love nice meaty posts, Julie responded with:

"I hope I delivered. I'm even hoping it's bacon. All posts should be like bacon."


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My Sister's Demon, paranormal fiction by Julie Glover, @julie_glover

As a novel reader, I always believed I was meant to write full-length books. Yet I find myself entering the self-published market with a collection of short stories instead.

I wrote the first one on a lark—merely a story premise I wanted to get out of my system. But I liked the result so much, I started another. And then I got hooked, eventually completing six young adult paranormal shorts.

6 reasons you might consider writing a short story:

1. Writing short stories hones your skill for writing lean—a skill that will help you craft more effective scenes in a novel.

The limited space of short stories requires the writer to stick to what must be included and leave the rest behind. Mastering storytelling in short form can help you see your novel in a different light.

After working on short stories, I returned to edits on my book and suddenly recognized sections and scenes that didn't pull their weight. Now that I better understand how to pack punch into a shorter word count, I can transfer that skill to writing longer fiction and create a more power-packed novel.

2. Short stories appeal to the our fast-paced lives.

It's tempting as authors to expect everyone to be voracious readers like us, toting around thick books or an entire library on our e-reader. But today's world is fast-paced, and many people simply don't have time or make time to read a full novel. They might, however, be able to get through a short story and satisfy their urge for fiction.

A short story can be read on the subway or bus to work, while waiting to be seen in a doctor's office, or in those few minutes to yourself at night before you crash into sleep.

Shorts appeal to our overfull schedules and keep readers reading.

3. Your story idea is great, but not enough for a novel.

Practically speaking, sometimes this is true. You have wonderful characters in mind and a story event worth telling, but it's not layered enough for a full-length book.

Indie author Kait Nolan's most recent publications are her Meet Cute Romances, a series of shorts celebrating the first meeting of a romantic couple. She says:

"Ideally, for a novel, you'd have a full conflict and character arc that brings them together. And that's great. But sometimes, all you've got is the beginning, that moment of promise that gives you a thrill of knowing this is IT, this is the ONE. And in your head you can see it playing out—as relationships often do in real life—with little conflict worth a full dramatic story. That doesn't make the story of that relationship any less worthy of being told, it just means it needs a shorter format that zeroes in on that moment of spark."

Not every idea is worthy of 300 pages or so, and sometimes you can tell a great tale in 10, 20, or 30 pages. So don’t toss that fabulous idea! Make it a short story.

4. Shorts help maintain reader interest in between full-length books.

Self-published authors and traditional publishers have discovered how important it is to keep an author's name active in a fan's mind. Since it takes a while to write, edit, and publish a book, how can you keep your readers engaged during the wait?

More and more, short fiction fills the gap—with novellas and short stories both teasing and satisfying a loyal fan base. Many successful authors, such as thriller author Lee Child (Jack Reacher) and Kathy Reichs (Bones), have added shorts to their series as a welcome bonus for their readers.

5. Anthologies provide an avenue for gaining new readers.

Collaborating with other authors can put your name in front of potential readers. If another author's fans buy the anthology, they might give your story a shot and discover you're their happy cup of tea as well.

However, participate in an anthology because you believe in the product or cause, not merely for exposure. Best-selling urban fantasy author Jaye Wells wrote "The Werewife" for the anthology Carniepunk: "Agreeing to submit was a no-brainer because the other participating authors are good friends and the carnival theme was irresistible. The side benefits of increased exposure was a secondary consideration."

When choosing to submit a story for an anthology, Wells has this advice as well: "I've also learned that it's often best to write stand-alone short stories because writing a scene or connected story with your other books comes off as an advertisement, which can annoy readers."

You might pick up a new reader, not with a teaser story for an existing series, but for your unique voice in fiction.

6. Short stories are a powerful storytelling medium.

Remember the short stories you enjoyed? I vividly recall The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe, The Veldt by Ray Bradbury, and The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. These fiction greats understood the power of short fiction to hook a reader.

Indeed, the short story market is growing. While shorts never went away, they weren't commercially viable with printing costs. The ebook revolution has given this powerful medium a resurgence, to the benefit of both writers and readers.

Why write a short story? Even with these six reasons, the ultimate reason is because you have a short story to tell. Many writers do, if they open themselves up to the idea and let their imagination go.

Have you ever written a short story? What do you like about writing short? If not, what keeps you from exploring short fiction? Who is your favorite short story writer?

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About Julie

Julie Glover, Writers In The StormJulie Glover is the author of "Color Me Happy," a young adult romance story in the Orange Karen: Tribute to a Warrior anthology, and My Sister's Demon, the first of a series of young adult paranormal shorts. She is also working on a novel and lives with her wonderful husband and two sons in her beloved Lone Star state. (That's Texas, y'all.)

Find Julie at her website or on Twitter. She loves to tweet.

62 comments on “6 Reasons to Write a Short Story”

  1. Lovely post! Lorrie Moore is one of my favorites, and she once said: "A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film." I totally get the appeal. It's a great exercise every writer should try.

      1. I know, isn't that one just awesome? I love this one from Stephen King too - "a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger." YES!

  2. Julie, I'm dying to try - Margaret Atwood's short stories are nuggets of gold. I just know I'd love writing them! Alas, deadlines loom, and I can't get the time.

    I have to stay away from writing prompts, because they make me want to write short stories.

    One of these days....

    1. Yes, one of these days, Laura! I suspect your publisher would eventually like the idea of you writing a short, possibly to fill in the gap between book releases. Your fans would surely love a "quickie" from their favorite romance writer! 🙂

  3. I think this is a great post. I actually write short stories rather than novels (though I have my first novel to complete at the moment. Obvs!) and I think that although they have been rather undervalued in the past, people are beginning to appreciate their form again. I love them, and am actually finding it hard to expand my writing past the snapshot that short stories focus on. Maybe a post about that?

    1. I agree that shorts have been undervalued. I think they fell out of favor with the downturn in longer-article magazines and the focus on printing novel-length books.

      I'd love to see a post from someone about expanding from short-writing to novel length. Since I went the other way, I wonder what they'd say. Thanks, Sally!

  4. Ah Julie, you have hit home with me this morning. Before I ever attempted a novel ... or back in the day ... I started with a journal ... just a way to keep myself sane when the kids were little ... I published a couple of shorts and poems in University Press and Indie Journals while I was in college ... THEN ... life delivered the good news ... as a single parent I had to do pesky things like pay rent and those little rug rats actually wanted to eat!! So three decades passed. Now and again, I'd scroll through the journals, but it was too painful. I used my writings skills for program development and worked in not-for-profit. When I retired to the wilds of South Florida, I packed up the journals and put them in storage and another ten years went by with life imposing.

    Those early journals became the basis for my blog and certain features. Then I wrote two collections of shorts, short-shorts, and now I am have a lark with flash. I wrote six novels before it dawned on me that all of this paper and ink might want to see the light of day. So I have begun to send out the novels and still go back and read those early shorts. Fine ... so I sent a couple of them here and there. You are not the first time this year that I've read something that poked at me to go back and do something with them. It's very funny because I have a very long history of loving to read them, still do. In the day, magazines like Red Book and of course, Playboy, The New Yorker and a host of other monthly had wonderful shorts. Some of our favorite writers have never given them up (Stephen King for one) and that song is playing in my head again ... "When everything old is new again."

    Love, love this post. Since I've gotten the courage to send out the long stuff, you tempt me to go back and do something with my shorts ... other than play with them on the blog. Thanks, Julie.

    OKAY, WITS ... we've waited long enough and I can't wait 'til Monday 🙂

    1. How fabulous that you have those shorts to revisit! You make a great point too about how magazines used to be a great place for short fiction, but there aren't as many anymore. Plus, Stephen King and others have indeed stuck with shorts. If I remember correctly from reading ON WRITING, King cut his teeth on writing short fiction. As did many other authors.

      Glad I could spur you on! Best wishes with your shorts!!!

  5. Fab post, Julie! Lately, I've been dying to try a short story - as soon as I finish the book I'm currently working on. Although I would like to write some from the perspective of some of my characters in my books. They are characters with the potential for colorful pasts, and I'm just dying to explore that. That kind of goes against your advice, I know, and I certainly don't want to turn off readers, but that's where my head is right now.

    Also, I keep wondering if I'm capable of writing a short, especially as a mystery writer who's so accustomed to putting in subplots and complications. I guess I'll find out!

    Thanks for giving us a lot of "meat"! Make mine bacon. 😉

    1. Oh no, Kathy, PLEASE write shorts with your characters. It's anthologies that people often don't want a series short, because some of those readers won't know you and your characters and their backstories, so it doesn't make sense to them.

      But your own readers would likely LOVE to read shorts about other characters with "colorful pasts." You have a treasure trove of possibilities with your Concordia Wells series!

  6. I haven't written short stories (even though my memoir Growing Up Country is essentially a collection of short stories, I don't consider it that) - and am drawn to try. My question is how you know at the outset whether something is a short story, novella, or novel? Do you just write your way into it and find out?

    1. To some extent, yes. But with a short story, you can purposefully limit the number of characters, settings, and plot lines. If you eliminate subplots, you probably won't end up with a novel.

      One of the shorts for my Paranormal Playground series does currently sit at novella length, but it's just over the line and I may be able to cut down the draft. Still, as I was writing it and aware of the growing word count, I simply kept going with the story itself.

      Best wishes with your writing, Carol!

  7. Recently, I've been challenging followers of my blog to give me a writing prompt on a certain subject. I then respond by writing a short story. I've found myself writing stories in completely different styles and have found it a really good writing exercise.

    You can read what I've written so far here: http://www.victorialouisehill.com/Short-Stories/

    1. It is great exercise! I have also done flash fiction, and that helped me try my hand at other things too. In fact, some writing coaches suggest that you start your writing day by churning out a short piece -- maybe 100 to 1000 words -- to get your creativity revving. I suspect that some of those pieces would beg to become full stories, though!

      Thanks for sharing your stuff!

  8. RWR just published an article I wrote about short stories (May issue) in which I touched upon all of the same reasons to write them, but I cautioned that they generally aren't big money makers. Who came along to dispute my findings--Cynthia Sax--who apparently has written the next 50 Shades-like sensation. So there you go, folks: sometimes you can make some awesome bucks from shorts.

    1. Thanks for that heads-up! I have that issue, but I haven't yet read through it yet. I'll grab it today and read your article. Looking forward to it! Glad to know we hit on the same things.

  9. This is timely. I've been thinking about trying something like this for a long time. I'm so used to longer works, I don't know if I have it in me.

    1. I wondered the same thing! Just give it a shot, knowing you've got nothing to lose. Stick to a main plot line and see what you can turn out. Best wishes!

  10. Great post, Julie. 🙂 You know I'm a fan of the short story and I love finding new to me authors through anthologies.. I'm even working on a short story written through short flash fiction. It's a lot of fun.

    1. You've worked beautifully with novellas! Like short stories, this is another shorter medium that has found many willing readers.

      I've discovered authors I like through anthologies too. Anthologies are a bit like wine tasting to me. You take a sip of an author, discover you like that taste, and then you go out and buy the whole bottle (their novels, novellas, or other short stories).

      Thanks, S.J.!

  11. Great post. I love short stories. 🙂 My fiction life started a few years ago when my wife encouraged me to take a writing class at Stanford. I ended up taking four classes between the years 2010 and 2012. During those classes, I wrote around thirty short stories. One of those, a romantic comedy, I turned into a full-length novel that I will be publishing in July. My second novel (to be published in December) also originated as a short story.

    I plan to publish a collection of short stories in the future as well. How fun!

    1. Wow, what a wonderful story you have! 30 shorts, and two becoming novels coming out soon? Terrific!

      I'll be looking for your upcoming novels and short story collection. Best wishes with it!

  12. Julie, you know I love this post. It's definitely bacon. 🙂 Alice Munro, ZZ Packer, Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, David Sedaris, Amy Tan...all of these authors have lit me on fire with their short stories. I adore the medium immensely.

    Thanks for hanging with us here at WITS! I hope tons of people click over and buy your story. 🙂

    p.s. I just approved a ton of comments, so you might want to take a tour from the top real quick.

    1. Yes! What a great list of writers, who have turned out marvelous shorts. Thanks for letting me share about my love of short stories!

  13. I love to write short stories for may of the reasons you've listed, Julie.
    And more...
    -They can lead into writing longer fiction (novel)
    Once you start exploring the themes and topics in a short story it may inspire you to write a novel.
    -Linked short stories may form a novel.
    Oh, yes and...

  14. Great post, Julie. I have a 7500 word story out in an anthology and a 20,000 word novella published last summer, and both were the hardest things I've ever done. What to cut? It was excruciating!

  15. Great post, Julie. I have a short story that I started ages ago but keep shying away from finishing it. You've reignited that flame. 🙂

  16. Wonderful post, Julie! At the writer's forum I belong to, we have "Challenges" and write 1,000 word or less stories. I have written 7 of them so far. (Won 5 times and came in 2nd twice) and I have to say they've helped me tremendously. They've helped me practice tightening and focusing on what's important to the story. I recently entered a contest where I had to have a 1,000 word synopsis and it didn't scare me as much as it would have without the practice. I've also written a 10k short for the Mills & Boon Tempted To Write Contest. Didn't win but it too was good practice. Maybe someday I will find a home for it.

    1. Fabulous, Carol! And you put this so well: "They've helped me practice tightening and focusing on what's important to the story." I've also found that be true.

      Good point that synopses aren't so scary with that practice. I actually love writing synopses, query letter, and back copy. Go figure!

      Keep writing those great shorts!

  17. I so want to try writing short stories but I'll admit the idea scares me. Actually though, this would be the perfect time to experiment as family stuff has left me with little time to write. Between you and Lynda Jensen who wrote a how-to blog on short stories, maybe I'll get up the gumption. 🙂

    1. You can do it! It isn't bravery if it doesn't scare you a little, right? I was scared too -- and I've started more shorts than I've finished -- but I did it and love the completed stories.

      Hope you can get in some good writing time. All the best!

  18. I love both reading and writing short stories. My favorite form of literature.

  19. Thanks for the post. My favorite reasons are honing the craft of tight writing and getting the kudos along the way as you write longer works. Great post!

    1. That's true that it's nice to have those shorter completed works even as you write the BIG novel. It it nice to see that progress. Thanks, Karen!

  20. Although I consider myself a novelist, I enjoy short story writing for a few reasons, the primary being that the art form affords more freedom. Readers are more open to experimental fiction lasting 10 pages than that which tries to sustain itself for 300. I write speculative fiction grounded in the here and now, but can do more hard sci-fi or gut-punch horror in short fiction, because they work better that way. Inverting your point that some story ideas don't warrant a novel, some other story ideas do, but you don't know it until you write a short story version first.

    My previous (unpublished) manuscript began as a short story that didn't work particularly well, but I liked the characters and the concept, so I rewrote it as a novel, expanded the scope, and was pretty happy with the end product, at least as a learning experience. My current WiP also started as a short story. A scene really. Now I have 150 pages before it and another 100 after it.

    1. Such wonderful insight. Thanks for sharing your experience, Eric! I love the idea that readers are more open to experimental fiction in smaller bites. On the writer side, I find myself more willing to experiment with story ideas too.

  21. Six excellent reasons. I started writing short fiction because it's still seen as a route to longer publication in science fiction and fantasy. I later discovered that this may not be true any more, but it's been excellent for my writing. In particular writing flash fiction - stories of 1000 words or less, has taught me to write leanly and effectively.

    1. Science fiction seems to be the one genre (I can think of) in which short stories never went away! I think they were smart to keep it going through reader magazines.

      I agree that flash fiction is a great exercise. I've done some, though maybe I should get back into it more. Thanks, Andrew!

  22. VERY enlightening, Julie. When I saw the topic, I thought "I can't even write a comment that doesn't morph into a novella. Short stories? No Freaking way! There is no freaking way I can say what I want to say in a short story."

    Yet, the edit process is giving me heartburn. Entire scenes that don't move the story forward have to be chopped.

    Economy of words. There's the ticket. Make every word count. My mind now churns with short story options.

    I was wrong.

    1. You could write shorts, Gloria. Honestly, some of your comments are as entertaining as some shorts I've read! LOL. (Plus, there's the whole question of what constitutes a short story -- because while everyone seems to agree fiction starts being a short story at 1,000 words, the outer limit runs anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 words.)

      Economy of words is the writer's challenge! Just remember Mark Twain's famous quote: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." It takes extra effort and time to pare down sometimes.

      Hope you write a short soon. I'm sure you'd write a great one!

  23. Thank you so much, Julie, for your great article!! Each vital reason was extremely well-expressed.
    Having written and had published my own collection of slightly longer shorts, "Sewing Can Be Dangerous And Other Small Threads," I can certainly attest to all of your valid points, no matter what certain 'publishing edicts' have stated about novels selling better than short stories.

    And as for flash fiction, writing stories that are under 1,000 words is GREAT training for a writer. It really does hone your skills. That's when you really do think about what is necessary and what is nonessential. It also forces you to place adjectives in places you never thought possible! I highly recommend writing those. And if you are wondering what to write about, there are writing sites on the internet that offer you writing prompts galore.

    In addition, I do believe that because I had written short stories/flash fiction, it helped me enormously in the cutting down process for my novel, "Unexpected Gifts," when my publisher told me to literally cut it in half.

  24. I used to write short stories all the time. Lately I've been writing them only as backstory for my current WIPs, but you're making me want to dig into some other bits that are cluttering my head. I look forward to reading your first published story! So proud of you!

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