Who else did a double take at this post title? I did. It’s the title of a post at Jane Friedman’s blog: 20 Reasons Why Everybody Should Write Short Stories
Speaking as someone who literally wrote ten novels before developing the ability to write short stories … most of which turn into novellas … I have to say, really? Because if you don’t have a knack for writing short fiction, you could sure struggle endlessly to produce barely successful short stories while all the time you could be working on a perfectly fine novel. Why would that be useful? Why would anyone recommend this?
Now, I know exactly why, or I think I do. I’m pretty sure the author of this post … someone named Elizabeth Sims … is going to say, “Writing short stories forces you to tighten up your plotting! It forces you to get rid of filler and fluff and make every word count! That will help when you write novels!” This would be sort of true, but it would also be wrong, and wrong in an annoying way, but I’m sure that’s what Sims is going to argue because what else can she possibly have in mind?
Let me read the post and see if I’m right. Here’s her first sentence:
Short stories force you to practice economy of language as well as of plot material.
Yep, I was right. The reason I find this annoying is because it was just so impossible for me to write short stories for such a long time, and it’s not helpful to be told how helpful writing short stories would be when you just can’t write short forms, or when it’s tremendously difficult to do it.
She’s making other arguments too, however, as perhaps we might have expected given the “twenty points” format of this post. So, what other reasons is she offering to support her thesis?
She’s arguing that it’s less intimidating to start writing when you think you have only a ten-page short story to write rather than a 400-page novel. This isn’t true. Or rather, it’s probably true FOR HER. It’s not true for ME. I don’t find the thought of starting a novel intimidating because I don’t sit there thinking, “Oh my God, how am I ever going to fill up 400 pages?” As you may have noticed, frequently the hard part for me is keeping the novel from getting a lot longer than that. Those writers who find novels easier than short stories — and there are lots of us — aren’t likely to find this argument persuasive.
Oh, she’s arguing that writing short stories allows you to try out different genres, try writing first- rather than third-person narratives, experiment with different styles and protagonists and voices. Fine, I somewhat reluctantly acknowledge that this is true.
All right, let me skim forward … oh, here’s a marketing argument: you can give away a short story as a teaser to hook readers into a series of novels. Yes, you can, and yes, I have tried several times to write a story story that could do that for the Tuyo series, but alas, so far everything has ranged from a short novel to a really really long novel, so that hasn’t worked.
When I eventually look into setting up a “book funnel” and so forth, that would make a lot of sense for the Black Dog series. Obviously I have heaps of stories there. I think “The Master of Dimilioc,” which is as you remember the one where Ezekiel kills Thos Korte, would be the obvious choice. It’s a prequel story that doesn’t require the reader to know much about the world or the characters. I should definitely look into doing that. I just don’t want to take the time to do it.
What I should REALLY do is write a short story in the Tuyo world that does not contain a spoiler about, you know, that crucial plot point revealed in the first book. Then (somehow) a short story in the Death’s Lady world. Then, I don’t know, a couple of other short stories, I suppose. Package that up with a Black Dog story and give the story collection away. That’s been in my mind for a while. But I don’t want to take the time right this minute to write new short stories because I’m busy with novels and also, despite Sims’ opinion, writing short stories is hard for me.
Sims argues: “A short story is a break from the demands of a novel, which can get to feel onerous. Writing a short story in the midst of a tough slog in a novel can change your mental scenery and freshen the wind at your back.”
And yeah, no, that’s not how it feels to me. For me, if a novel becomes a slog (frequently they do), then taking a break is not indicated. Slogging forward is indicated. Take too much of a break and the odds are pretty good that novel is going to be hard to pick up again.
Okay, having skimmed through the whole thing, I don’t see anything else that feels like it applies to me.
But I grant, you really can try out a different kind of voice or style or something weird like second-person narrative, or a wildly different genre, or whatever else appeals to you, more quickly in short stories than in novels. That’s probably a genuine advantage to short forms.