I love short stories—especially reading them. When it comes to writing, though, I gravitate toward the longer form. I am probably one of the many writers suffering from the “Silmarillion” syndrome. That’s that thing when you want to feel like a God and create vast things so that people can look at them and go, Wow! But ask anyone who ever tried to build an Eifel Tower from Legos—it’s not the easiest of tasks. It requires a lot of concentration, attention, ability to split the large into small parts, have each small piece make sense independently, and then find its place inside the big picture. And everything must flow like music, be catchy and relevant, pleasant looking and emotional, wonderful, amazing, and great. No pressure there, none at all…
But the truth is that’s what I always thought a writer’s life should be—about creating big things. I dream of the novel that becomes a trilogy and the trilogy that becomes part of a multiverse Saga that spans space and time. A Saga that later becomes a movie, then a series, then a… Ok, I’ll stop; you get my point—I am a megalomaniac, and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you show that behavior at the right moment and time.
First Things First
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t start writing the Saga of the Century right off the bat, but I am trying to say that it will be a bit harder. One way to ease the pain is to learn how to focus on those little pieces down at the base. Learn how to build your basic Lego structures, and soon you will have enough skills to put them together into a massive architectural wonder.
I am talking, of course, about short stories. Just like (I assume) many other writers, I started by totally ignoring short stories. I thought I would waste good ideas that could become a novel in just a few pages, and I felt that instead of being focused, I would become completely scattered. I wasn’t wrong, but I soon learned that that was not necessarily a bad thing.
What is a Short Story?
A short story is a fully developed narrative with a plot, setting, and characters, but significantly shorter than a novel. There are some discussions on the proper length of a short story, but I usually consider a short story between 1,000 and 10,000 words. Note that those stories shorter than 1000 words typically fall into the flash-fiction category.
In my opinion, a good length for a short story is between 2,500 and 5,000 words. At an average of 250 words per page, you get a story between 10 to 20 pages, double-spaced. Remember that these are not set in stone, just guidelines to give you some idea.
Length is the central aspect that differentiates a short story from a novel. All other elements are more similar than different. A short story will follow a mini three-act structure, have a developed plot and a climax, and have characters, dialogue, description, and narrative. Unlike novels, though, in a short story, brevity is paramount. You must get to the point and get there fast; there’s no space to waste; you cannot afford it. Make each line, paragraph, and page count; be stingy with words, and you will develop the ability to say more with less.
Why Should You Write Short Stories?
Now I am finally getting to the point of this post. Let’s look at the pros and cons of writing short stories:
Pros of Writing Short Stories
Lower Complexity – Short stories are easier to write, hands down. Unlike the novel, where you need to track what happens over 300 or more pages, you need to follow what happens on ten pages in a short story. Every time you work on your short story, you can reread your story in its entirety to refresh your memory. It’s far more manageable.
Multiple Projects – You can quickly work on many short story projects simultaneously, just because they are smaller, and that allows you to move your focus from one to the other without damage to either story. With novels, you might work on more than one, but each requires a lot of concentration, so switching gears, whereas possible, will not be that easy.
Quick Brainstorming – When you brainstorm ideas, turn those ideas into a short story, even if you designed the concept for an entire novel. That will train your brain to take a kindle of an idea and turn it into living words. You can do this many times a day, and you can have as many stories as you have ideas.
Learn Different Techniques – The short story is a condensed novel in a way. If you want to improve specific techniques, use short stories to practice them. Do you have trouble controlling your point of view? Write the same story from different points of view. Have trouble with a fiction element? Maybe dialogue or description? Write a few short stories and focus on those aspects only. Each story will add knowledge to that particular building block, and in time your overall writing technique and style will get better.
Create a Name – This is one of the most important ones, especially for beginning writers. I’m not talking about creating a name for your characters, but yourself. As a beginner, you have no name. Nobody heard of you, so what they have to do is take your word for it and a few pages of your work and decide if they want to publish you. That’s why publishing your first novel is a hard, hard job. So, look at short stories as little stepping stones toward your novel publishing.
First, you will start with smaller, less-known publications. Once you publish a story, and another story, and another, then you move to the next level—more significant, better-known publications, wider distribution, and so on. When you are ready to publish an entire novel, your name is now floating in the atmosphere. You can refer agents and publishers to your short story works. Maybe one of the editors that published your short story is willing to give you a testimonial. Either way, you are no longer a nobody in the eyes of the book publisher. You are somebody who wrote stuff that made it into print already. That’s a huge step.
Cons of Writing Short Stories
Competitive Market – As in any industry, when things are easy to do, many people will do them. Short stories are easier to write; therefore, many more people will be writing them. Some of them will be great. So, you will compete with many others trying to publish stories in limited spaces such as magazines or anthologies. One piece of advice I can give you is to look for niche genres, not as popular, places where the competition is less fierce. That may give you the advantage you need to break out of the pack.
Low Pay – The average pay for short stories is between 0 and 5 cents per word. I am talking about new writers, not about Stephen King, ok? So, it is virtually impossible to live as a writer just from short stories. Sad but true.
Time Away from Big Projects – As always, the more time you focus on short stories, the less time you have to dedicate to your larger projects. But that is a matter of time management. Organize your work and your time in such a way that balances your short stories and your novels.
Short-Stories – Conclusion
So, in conclusion, I think that short stories will help your writing development process. They will be fuel for your imagination and will help train your fingers. Writing them will allow you to circumvent writer’s block in large works and teach you how to switch gears and focus between projects quickly. They will help you create a name for yourself and pave the way to your novel publishing career.
Short Story Markets
So, where do you submit your short stories? Find below six resources that hold extensive databases of short story markets in all genres:
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- Do you write short stories? Why?
- What are the shortest and longest short stories you’ve ever written?
- What genres do you find yourself writing with the most enjoyment?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!
Hey, I totally agree with you on this stuff, Iulian! I want to write novels, but when I first tried to put my characters and ideas on paper, a novel was an overwhelming project. I still fumbled away at it for a while before I decided to focus on shorter works. Now, feeling slightly more confident that I can string words together into a (somewhat) coherent short story, I’m back to tackling novels.
One thing that is also cool is that months or years after you worked on a short story with a strong idea behind it, you can go back and take that and make it a long work. So it serves as an idea bank…