I have a confession to make: I like short stories. I like to read them, those morsels of distant worlds, bite-sized and perfect for lunchtime and commuting. I like to write them too as they help me experiment with my style and explore all those tiny bits of ideas that wouldn’t suffice to become a basis of a novel. But for some reason many writers I talk to them online neither writes them or considers them worth the effort. Sure, one can’t make much money by writing short stories only, but there are still reasons to stop outlining that sixth novel in the series and instead tell a story in less than 7000 words.
1. Short stories require less time to write
Writing a novel for months or even years can be pretty difficult, and going through countless edits might be quite disheartening, while a short story is something that can be written over the weekend or in a week if you’re busy. Also the editing won’t take a lot of your precious time, so within a month (or even less) you have something complete you can send out to the world: either share it on your blog or submit to a magazine. It means that you’ll get feedback a lot quicker. And feedback—along with coffee—is one of the writer’s fuels.
2. Short stories help to improve your style
With limited amount of words at disposal, every single one of them starts to count and you learn how to present a complex world within a paragraph or introduce the character in a mere two sentences and still give him or her enough flavor for the readers to have a clear pictures in their heads. It means your style becomes more concise and polished, and you learn how to entice with your words.
3. Short stories are easier to let go
I often see people stuck working on the novels that have some major flaws making the fixes difficult or even impossible. They might even see the issues with their story or listened to the what critique partners and beta-readers say, but they refuse to let go because of all the time they’ve already invested in the novel. It’s hard to looks at months or years of hard work, countless rounds of editing and rewrites and say “I’m done with it now” with all the emotional attachment that have build over time. When a short story doesn’t work, it’s easier to move on and simply write another short story.
4. Short stories allow experiments
Ever thought of writing a story where a narrator is a stone? Or a story that is told in a future tense? One with no dialogues or to the contrary: one that is only a dialogue? An unusual narrative or other experiments with style always pose risk for the readers getting tired or discouraged, but the extremes are easier to digest in small portions. Short-story-sized portions, to be precise.
5. Short stories don’t always require a fully developed world
While a speculative fiction novel needs careful planning and extensive world building, short stories most of the times focus only on one aspect of the world they’re set in or contain only fragment of the reality, so it’s easier to push through some unrefined ideas that might have not worked as a part of a bigger world. Extreme situations, unusual societies, weird locations: they often crumble when you try to fit them into a novel, but in a short story there’s neither place nor the need to show how they fit in the bigger picture.
6. Short stories allow you to reach out to the new readers
Having short stories published in multiple magazines and anthologies helps the writers to find new readers and new fans. People who had no idea your books exist might look them up just because they’ve liked your short story. And if they see your name around, here and there, they’ll start associating it with good fiction and search for more. Some magazines offer spotlights for their writers or retweet information about their new releases, and that’s some free publicity, isn’t it?
7. Short stories can be a challenge and a real test of your writing skills
I’ve heard several times that writing a good story is much more difficult than writing a good novel. While in the novel a slower chapter or a bland character might slip through, and the book would still leave a reader satisfied, this is not the case when it comes to short stories. With the limited amount of words every mistake imperfection can sink the story, and you only have little space to leave your reader impressed. To make them remember the story long time after they’ve finished it. And while I’d leave the question of which is harder to write open, I do consider short stories a real test. And between you and me, I don’t always pass it with flying colors.
These are my reasons for writing for short stories. What are yours? Or maybe you don’t have any and consider them a waste of time? I’ve been creating short stories ever since I’ve started writing and even working on my novels doesn’t change it as I take a few day breaks here and there to write another one, but I know of some people who had written multiple novels, but have never tried to write a short story. What about you?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.