Novelists writing short stories?

A long time ago, after the dinosaurs died out but before the discovery of bronze, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Yes, even then. I also knew what kind of writing I wanted to do. I wanted to write books. I didn’t want to write newspaper articles, blog content (yes, I know, go laugh somewhere else) or short stories. I wanted to write books and that was it.

Would the world leave it alone? No, of course it wouldn’t. Everywhere I looked there were bestselling authors who had worked as journalists, authors who started out submitting short stories to magazines, authors who blogged for fifty million years before they published a book. These guys had done it the “right” way, I was told. They had honed their craft. The constraints of journalism and short stories meant that they had to say what they wanted to say in the most economical way possible. They could craft a scene with three nouns and a conjunction and abhorred the dastardly demons Adjective and Adverb. They knew about deadlines.

Yeah, right, I said (insert appropriate hand gesture here). Even when my father had some success with writing short stories and submitting them to competitions I swore blind I wasn’t going to do it.

I’m no good at short stories, I blustered. I don’t have my father’s twisted mind, and some of his stories really are freaky. I worry about him when I read them, to be honest. I don’t have that kind of freakazoid nature, I said.

Of course, it was all bullshit. Of course I’ve got that freakazoid nature. For a start, he and I are related. It’s in my genes. For another thing, I write fantasy and I think nothing of torturing my main characters until they wish they still had their tongues so that they could beg for mercy.

The fact of the matter was, I was scared. I thought I needed a larger number of words with which to craft my story. The idea of having to get backstory, a plot and character development into a few thousand words scared the crap out of me. Flash fiction was the scariest of all. How were you supposed to get all this into a thousand words or less?

Now, I have since looked back at my younger self and realised I was lazy. Yes. Lazy. With a capital L and capital all the other letters as well. I didn’t want to try. No guts. The fact remains that crafting a short story is an incredibly useful exercise for aspiring writers. And other kinds of writers too.

Even if you have no intention of earning your living as a journalist, writing short stories allows you to hone your skills as a story-teller without spending thousands of hours on it, or having to wait a year for feedback. Or a rejection. People who know say that short stories are much harder to write than books, and they’re right. You still have to create an entire world, you still need a hook, memorable characters and a climax. All the things you need in an eighty thousand word manuscript, but without the six month to ten year slog needed to achieve them.

The best bit? You can submit them to magazines or anthologies and get paid for them. Now don’t tell me that’s not motivation.

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About Mhairi Simpson

Writer, dreamer. Magic, dragons, pink mice, cake. Come say hi!
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14 Responses to Novelists writing short stories?

  1. Liz says:

    Yes, I get all that, but my short stories suck. I mean, badly. Don’t believe me? I put a couple of them on Scribd (links on my blog’s sidebar).

    • I haven’t gone and looked yet, but I’m going to once I’ve responded to the comments here. I wrote a short story a few years ago. It sucked. I mean, I could probably have entered it in a Bad Short Story contest and it would have stood more than a fair chance of winning. I don’t often get the urge to write short stories, which is why there are only two on this blog. Maybe it’s boredom setting in with the novel that makes something of a shorter duration somewhat appealing, all of a sudden…

  2. Debs says:

    *laughs* well I think writing a novel is dreadfully hard and short stories are fun. As writers I think we have inclinations to a certain length. But good on ya for pushing your boundaries. Now, where’s that half finished novel I left lying around.

    • I have to admit, my initial fear of short stories stemmed from them being harder to write than novels, simply because you had to get a full story into (usually) a four digit number of words. I was always completely terrified of flash fiction. I have no idea where I got the idea for Chocubus from. Just decided to write a flash piece one day and that was what came out. Bizarre.

  3. tangynt says:

    I’ve actually had my interest piqued here recently to write a few short stories. Mostly because of contests and the possibility of submitting to Anthologies, but I really do love my novels. So! I found a happy medium, where I’ll write stories about my characters in scenes and instances that don’t happen in the book! Problem solved.

    • I did my first short story for this blog based in the world my novel is set in. It’s handy because you already know about that world, the characters, etc. Makes it easier to build a story, I think.

  4. Donea Lee says:

    I’ve thought about this lately. Might just try my hand at a short story, yet! 🙂 New follower and fellow crusader here just (finally) making the rounds. Happy Thursday!

    • Hi! Thanks for following 😀 I have to admit, I think writing short stories is something that I personally couldn’t have forced myself to do even a year ago. Seems like now I’m ready. They really are a challenge.

      Happy Thursday!

  5. Trisha says:

    I like writing both short stories and novels 😀 I am writing a short story per week this year as part of the Chrysalis Experiment, and it’s been great so far!

    • Oh that’s an excellent idea! I’ll have to go check that out. I find short stories a challenge, partly for the length and partly for subject matter. My head’s so full of novel stuff that I find it hard to switch gears.

  6. “I think nothing of torturing my main characters until they wish they still had their tongues so that they could beg for mercy.”

    A woman after my own heart. ❤

    I love writing short stories, but hate the time it takes out of writing my books. I'd rather work on the books, because people rarely read short stories. But they are so helpful with learning how to write a story concisely.

    • I was thinking about this the other day, the fact that people rarely read short stories. As you say they’re helpful, and I think they can serve a purpose on your blog/website as a way to showcase your abilities. After all, writing blog posts is one thing, but actual writing in your genre isn’t something that people will see if you only put up factual content, i.e. you writing about general stuff. If you put up shorts then people can see that a/you can write and b/what kind of stuff you write. If they like your shorts they’re more likely to buy your books.

      That’s my thinking, anyway.

  7. Short stories are an essential part of the writer’s craft.
    I write them and put them out there for people to make their own judgement.
    Good or bad, they need to be released into the wild.

    Stay Alive
    N

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