Welcome to Rose Atkinson-Carter who talks about short story writing.
Short stories have often been tragically overlooked by new writers in their ambition to get their first novel published. This is a shame, because short stories are a craft of their own. Learning how to write a good short story is an important step in understanding what it takes to tell a story: with only a limited space, you must learn to still convey the story’s key elements while making it gripping and emotionally touching. What more of a challenge could a writer want?
These are seven of the key reasons to practice short story writing. Hopefully you’ll feel inspired to start your own short story by the end — you’ll love the way your writing changes after you get a few under your belt.
They teach you to be concise
Stop me if I’m stating the obvious, but the great thing about short stories really is that they’re short! Unnecessary words and clichés have to go. Cut down scenes that drag on — or cut them entirely if they don’t serve the story. Editing is your best friend, now more than ever.
It’s a great skill to master, because if you graduate to longer works, you’ll have a deeper knowledge of balancing pacing so that readers remain engaged throughout the novel. You can say exactly what you need to, in the fewest amount of words possible. Consider Ernest Hemingway and his famous short sentences. Reading his work, you know exactly what you need to, nothing more and nothing less, and it works perfectly.
You learn how to build a gripping plot
Whether you’re a planner or a pantser, as you write a short story you have to figure out which plot points matter and which don’t. You have to look at the scope of your story, everything needs a purpose. You might think of a great scene that develops your characters, but if it doesn’t do much for the story, or it’s too much of a diversion, you probably need to cut it.
Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to cut chunks of your story out at one time! I was editing a short story the other day, and in one satisfying click I deleted a third of my word count — my story is much better for it. Of course, if you think you can use that content in a later story, it’s always useful to have a notes document where you can paste anything useful you cut.
You can create lovable characters with less
As you write short fiction you’ll learn to accurately discern what readers need to know, what they don’t, and what you need to know. You’ll still need to know your characters well — their origin story, what they want in life, what they need, and whether or not they’re going to get it. In a novel, a lot of this information would eventually come to light, but in a short story, the reader should only know what they need for the scope of that story. If your character is an adult who has just moved to a new city, you might explain that they moved a lot as a kid, but readers don’t need to know about their childhood dog and the bond they had.
They let you experiment and find your voice
Writing short stories helps to find your writer’s voice before diving into a longer work. If you start writing a novel, but you’re not really sure what your voice is, you’ll have a lot of editing to do along the way. But the great thing about short stories is that they’re often one-offs, each one standing alone. You can play around with different tones or moods or genres without muddying a longer work. If you find something works really well, feel free to stick with it!
You can potentially get published quicker
Publishing a novel takes a long time. You either have to find an agent and a publisher, or find an editor, a proofreader, or a cover designer (and that’s a relatively small team!) all the while worrying about marketing your book — the list of tasks goes on.
Publishing stories is a different game. You can submit short stories to any of the thousands of online and print journals, magazines, or anthologies. While they might work with you on editing your story, it’s far less time and effort in comparison to how much it builds your credibility as an author — which will look great to agents when you’re ready to publish and market a novel.
They’re easier to get feedback on
Getting feedback on a novel can be hard because of the sheer length of the work. Whereas, with a 20 page short story, you’re far more likely to find people willing to give feedback. Whether you’re in a local writing group or part of an online writing community, a short story should be feasible for people to take the time to review — and it’ll be less money out of your pocket if you decide to ask a professional editor to look over it.
You can build up a portfolio
As a final point, writing and publishing short stories is a great way to build a portfolio. For example, it’ll look good in a book publisher’s eyes if you’re already published in multiple journals or magazines. Even if you decide not to publish your short stories, it’s great to have writing samples prepared for future jobs or collaborations down the road. These stories show that you understand the fundamentals of creative writing, that you’re passionate about your craft, and that you’re willing to put the practice in. You never know what opportunities might come your way, so it’s great to be prepared and have something to show.
Feeling inspired yet? The benefits to writing short stories certainly outweigh any negatives, so I hope you’ll take a little time out of your week to practice this often overlooked format. I can’t wait to see what you make!
Rose Atkinson-Carter is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best self-publishing resources and professionals like editors, designers, and ghostwriters. She lives in London.