Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 28, 2024

5 Reasons to Write a Short Story

by Ellen Buikema

Finishing a novel-length manuscript is rewarding but, with short stories—since they are less than 8000 words—you can bask in that wonderful feeling of accomplishment much sooner!

Short stories are also a good means for taking risks with writing. Challenge yourself to try out a different point of view or a character that might not carry a novel-length story.

Writing short stories:

  • Enhances writing skills.
  • Augments portfolios.
  • Provides more opportunities for submissions to editors and other professionals in the writing community.
  • Helps in understanding genres and knowing your readers.
  • Assists with name recognition. Get your name ‘in the public domain’ as a published author.

While slogging through the bazillionth draft of your novel, or even if still in the pondering-a-novel stage, consider these five reasons to pause for a bit, and start writing short stories.

1. Short stories enhance your skills.

In a short story, each word matters, especially if you are writing micro-fiction—stories of 300 words or less. Here are some prompts for micro, or flash fiction of you’d like to give this a try.

A short story has all the same elements as a novel—conflict, setting, interesting characters, and narrative—but you need to get to the action without extra words in the way.

Managing voice and pace

Due to an emphasis on keeping just what’s needed, short stories have fast pace and strong voice.

The writer must create scenes, dialogue, and description that move the narrative forward, removing extra prose.

Begin with action

A short story should start right in the middle of an emotional, spiritual, mental, or physical action.

Backstory, setting, relationships and character traits can be interwoven a bit at a time in the first few chapters. Hook the reader from the first line of the first chapter.

Creating multi-dimensional characters

There is no room for info-dumps to describe characters in a short story. Use dialogue, imagery, interactions, and reactions, as well as flashbacks to develop characters while moving through the narrative.

Short story writers also consider their characters’ necessity before committing to them. Each character must always be important to the narrative to be included. Build your story around a small number of well-constructed characters.

Learn to trim the fat

Self-edit like a boss.

A short story is … short. Think about what you really need.

Trimming the fat cuts out extraneous details, neatens the narrative, and stresses relationship details.

2. Short stories grow your portfolio.

A writing portfolio is a collection of polished, published work that a writer uses like a resume when submitting new work, or looking for a writing position. The longer your list of writing credits, the more you will stand out as a skilled writer.

It’s proof that you can deliver a finished product worthy of publication.

Even though writing a short story is challenging, it takes less time than writing a novel and will help your portfolio grow faster.

With the plethora of online and digital publishing available around the world, there are lots of possibilities. Getting a short story published is more accessible now. Here’s a recently updated article from Reedsy with 20 places accepting submissions for short stories.

Chances are good that someone will love your work. The challenge is to keep looking and not give up.

3. Short stories help you expand your prepublication experiences.

Your short story is written, critiqued, self- and beta edited—polished as shiny as possible. Next come submissions, rejections, and editors, oh my.

Submissions

Each publication has its own submission guidelines (absolute rules). You must follow these guidelines. So many publications are submitted that those submissions that do not follow the rules may be tossed. If the publisher or editor requires a PDF, send one, otherwise your wonderful work may not be read. Follow the guidelines, exactly.

Rejections

If you have received a rejection, rejoice! You’ve joined the ranks of many famous writers. Sometimes the agent, publisher, or editor, would love to work with you because they enjoy your writing, but they don’t have need of that particular story at this particular time. Receiving that rejection letter is good news! Your work has been liked and may be passed on to someone else in the publishing world.

Sometimes the writing needs more polishing. Make revisions and try again. Mentally prepare to have more rejections. It is part of the process.

Rejection, as painful as it can be, does not define you or your creative work, in whatever form your art takes. Let rejection make you stronger.

Editors

Publications provide editorial feedback if your short story is chosen for publication.

Editors provide constructive feedback from structural issues to line edits. They are invaluable resources. What you learn in the editing process will carry over into future projects. There is always more to learn. Go at this process with an open-mind. You’ll be able to better self-edit and strengthen your writing.

4. Short stories help you understand genres and know your readers.

Regularly writing and submitting short stories to publications will help with understanding genres, and give you a better feel for which readers want to read your work.

Research publications before you submit anything. Many publications specialize in, specific genres and styles. Submitting 5000 words of horror to a romance e-zine is pretty much a guaranteed rejection.

Reading the work of other writers in specific genres will also increase your skill in categorizing your own work.

In time you’ll write a short story with a particular reader in mind, and a clear idea of the genre. This will help when considering which publishing house is best to pitch your novel.

5. Short stories help get your name out there.

Your professional brand as a writer is developed by publications, your public Personality, and online presence—website, blogs, and articles. The writer brand starts when you begin publishing your work and grows as more of your work is seen in the public domain.

Short stories are a great way to develop your writer presence. Turnaround time is fast, compared to writing a full-length novel, and allows for the flexibility to hop topics, genres, styles. The choice is yours.

Being a writer with an established public presence is great for you and a plus to publishing houses by providing them with a readymade professional platform and a growing fan base.

Have you challenged yourself to write a short story? Did you ever receive a helpful rejection letter? Do you have a favorite author who writes short stories?

* * * * * *

About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents, and The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon chapter book series with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works in Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and The Crystal Key, MG Magical Realism/ Sci-Fi, a glaze of time travel.

Find her at https://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

Top image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

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15 comments on “5 Reasons to Write a Short Story”

  1. Short stories can also help you refine the aspects of a character which are going to be important in a longer work. An origin prequel story can show what happened to a character in the past that made them the character in a novel or longer work, but that would be too much backstory or flashback if you info-dumped it into the main story.

    You can present a character who is younger - show how they became who they are in the story present (we watched Better Call Saul which showed how a promising young attorney turned into one who helped criminals in Breaking Bad).

    You get to fully dramatize, instead of trying to load the details into a reader's mind with a few short strokes.

    And you can test your ability to do all kinds of writing crafts points, including pacing.

    You can practice beginning and ending a 'piece' of the overall story.

    But it IS a lot of work, and can use up a whole idea which you might have turned into something longer.

    I've written a few, and one 1500 word prequel (https://prideschildren.com/too-late-prequel) to give you a starting point for Andrew O'Connell, rising Irish actor of his generation. It was fun - AND a lot of that work mentioned. I'm waiting for the inspiration to hit for the other two main characters in Pride's Children, my mainstream trilogy, which may be finished before I get to those two stories.

    Short stories also serve readers who want to see how you write, and whether to give you a larger chunk of their lives. There's a bunch on my main writing blog, liebjabberings, on the Short story tab.

    1. Hi Alicia,

      A lot of work goes into short stories, to be sure, and writing them is a great way to introduce one's writing to potential readership.

      Thanks for sending your piece! I will give it a read.

  2. These are great considerations for writing short stories, Ellen.

    I've used short stories to get me back into the content creation mode. It's fun and does reconnect my writing mind to what would be exciting to read.

    I'm a fan of Shirley Jackson when it comes to speculative short stories.

    Kris

  3. All helpful things to think about. I have written children's short fiction of 700 words and flash fiction and science fiction novella's. So far short story length eludes me. But I love to read short stories. The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin is one that left a lasting impression on me.

    1. Hi Lynette,

      Thank you!
      I'm glad the suggestions are helpful.
      I am not familiar with The Cold Equations, and will check that one out.

      From what I've read, 8000 words is often the suggested upper limit word count, but I'm sure that varies.

  4. I love it when my clients write short stories! They are powerful tools for learning marketing and connecting with readers!

    1. Hi Miffie,

      Writing short stories is next on my agenda. The Charlie Chameleon stories are short, but it's not the same somehow.

      Concise ... yes, that is the challenge. I like to ramble on.

  5. I've written several short stories, but never submitted them to magazines. I've got novellas and novels published, though.
    I am a little unsure how to find e-zenes to submit to, though.
    Thanks for the post, though. It's very helpful.

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