20 Reasons Why Everybody Should Write Short Stories

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.

What else?

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.

Please Feel Free to Share:


12 thoughts on “20 Reasons Why Everybody Should Write Short Stories”

  1. My first thought for a Tuyo story that wouldn’t spoil anything was a story from the POV of Ryo’s
    brother & war-leader as he leaves his beloved younger brother behind to die as a tuyo—and then I thought, wow, gripping but BLEAK. And that wouldn’t at all be a good sell for the series itself, which is really far more about people connecting rather than fragmenting.

    So perhaps a short story about Nikoles’ grandmother going back to the winter country…but really shouldn’t that take a whole BOOK? She’s such a fascinating lady. I’d certainly want to see more than 10 pages of her…

    Whew, this is hard!

  2. VERY bleak! Even if the ending was him meeting Ryo in the inGeiro camp — which might be difficult to pull off without a spoiler — the beginning of the story would be grim, and that doesn’t seem like a good idea.

    And the thing is, anything about Nikoles’ grandmother would also be pretty sad. Also, yes, that ought to be a novel.

    Maybe something in Aras’ past, before Tuyo? But that story couldn’t involve Ryo, so that’s not ideal.

    It is hard!

  3. Yeah, I have rarely managed to turn out a good short story. Anything less than 10k words feels crammed too full for me, and even 10k frequently feels like not enough. And this is after I spent a little over a year producing monthly 1k stories for my Patreon account in 2019! I learned a lot about the constraints of short stories and the importance of lean plotting and all that during that time, but for every single one of those stories except one, after I finished I looked at them and thought, “wow, this would be better as a novella at the very least.” The one exception was a beautifully serendipitous story of the sort that has never happened before and likely never will again, so I figure it doesn’t count.

  4. Louise, I would just never commit to writing a 1K story every month, or even every year. That’s just a ridiculously difficult length.

  5. Yeah, that was not the best idea I’ve ever had! I fell prey to the idea espoused by so many who insist that short stories are great for every writer–I thought, hey, it’s only 1k words, it’ll be easier than doing a 6-7k short story every month. Ha. Oh well, I learned my lesson and managed to get at least one good story out of it and the potential for some others if I ever do decide to revise them and let them be their proper length!

  6. There’s a Twitter account that tweets “micro” scifi/fantasy stories (@microsff). They’re sometimes closer to what I’d consider a scene, but very enjoyable and impressive nonetheless. Especially with a 240 *character* limit!

  7. The format works well for horror.
    “For the love of God, Montressor, for the love of God.”
    “Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart.”

  8. I used to be all short stories, all the time. I particularly noted this when collecting my stories: the earlier the story, the shorter it was. My reprint collection is particularly full of short stories.

    Then A Diabolical Bargain crept up on me disguised as a novelette.

    There was a time when I worked on both but nowadays I seldom have a short story idea. Which is to say, an idea that doesn’t pull in a novel’s worth after it.

  9. For a short story introduction to Tuyo’s world, it might work to go back to a much younger Ryo, showing him interacting with his family, which would give a feel for at least the winterlands-setting and society in that world.
    A youngster’s small adventure can be kept a lot simpler, and thus hopefully shorter, and also not directly leading to spoilers for the series.
    Maybe something like Ryo being taught hunting by his older brother and seeing a snow leopard; or meeting his sister’s future husband and having some small misunderstanding to resolve, showcasing the mens’ and womens’ spheres of influence and interaction; or the first time he heard his future love interest sing, so you can showcase some of the Singers’ role.
    Those sorts of ‘snippets’ would contribute to the worldbuilding and enjoying the characters for us fans, but also function as a separate introduction to the world for new readers, and carry a lot less weight from a story-standpoint.

    If you really want to bring Aras into it, you could put it in the frame of sitting around the fire on their long journey and reminiscing about their childhoods, or Ryo trying to explain something about his culture to Aras and illustrating it with that story. Though that might be too likely to lead to a longer story, explaining the frame, or giving Aras’ reciprocal story…

  10. I was thinking it would be interesting to find out how Ryo’s parents met and married. We find out in Tarashana about Ryo’s father and his first wife, but there’s nothing yet about the second marriage. Surely, with 2 such interesting characters, they had some issues to resolve before they could settle in with each other. Maybe we could meet baby Ryo!

  11. Kathryn McConaughy

    I agree that a young Ryo story would be fun! Maybe a time that he and the other boys “raided” an enemy camp…

  12. You know what, *all* these suggestions are really good. I hardly know which of your suggestions I like best. I’m going to add all this to an Ideas for Stories file and start mulling these story prompts over in the back of my mind.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top