Short stories are a great route into writing. This is not simply because a short story is, as the name suggests, short, but rather because a short story is, in many ways, harder to write than a novel.
In a novel, you have fifty-thousand words or more to create a universe. A novel can be all-encompassing, covering dozens of years, multiple characters, generations of a family or a republic or what have you. A novel can take years to write (but hopefully, not to read).
Any story takes as many words as it needs to be told – but a short story requires such discipline from the author that it can be read in one sitting by its reader. There are all the usual elements of story-writing – research, outlining, writing, rewriting, editing, formatting, critique, etc. but a lot less space on the page.
Some of us will have encountered full-length novels which we have devoured in one sitting.
Some of us may need to admit we have a problem.
The fact is that a short story is usually around 7,500 words long and as such should engage the reader, tell the reader something about the world, and not take up their whole day.
A side note on this: a short story can be a great way to introduce a character. For myself, I wrote The Girl With All The Cleavage as a prequel to Sex, Death and Dinner. It can be read at any time, with or without the rest of the series.
In 2020, I’ll be writing some short stories – partly to get more discipline into my writing but also in order to introduce some new characters who, if people like them, might turn into full novels. We shall see…
The other great thing with a short story is that it doesn’t have to be written specifically for publication. It can just be a very useful means of experimenting with your writing and trying on a different voice without losing months and months to a novel.
So, recommended reading…
Book Review – How To Write A Great Short Story by Katrina Parker Williams
First published, 2012
Excellent. This is a brilliant little guide – does exactly what it says on the tin – and shows the reader, step by step, how to write a great short story. A short story is different from a novel, not just because of length, but because of focus.
A short story, by necessity, has to be more focussed than a novel. In this clear and concise guide, the reader is taught, step by step, about story length, character and characterisation, plot, point of view, voice, dialogue, setting, mood, and theme: all important aspects of any form of writing.
The reader is given examples of great short stories which can be found online, and by reading these, they will encounter excellent examples of the form.
The reader is given methods of outlining. These are instructive and very useful not just for the new writer, but also for the established author. I very much enjoyed the section on editing and critique. It can be tempting to believe that a short story doesn’t require editing. All writing requires editing and I liked the fact that the author indicated that no story comes out completely perfect on its first draft. I found that very reassuring.
Now, we can all wonder if I’m taking a bit of a risk talking about short story-writing when my first short story of the year comes out in five days’ time.
Well, yes. Yes, I am.
Probably should have thought about that before I picked this topic.