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Seven Reasons to Write Short Stories

Sunday, 25 July 2010

I write quite a bit of short fiction : short stories, flash fiction, even Twitter fiction. Sometimes I wonder why, because no-one reads short fiction that much do they? Out there in the real world, people basically read novels. It always seems like the short form should be well-suited to our hectic lives, but somehow the book charts remain resolutely full of 300-pagers.

So why write shorts? After some thought, here are my reasons for doing so :

  • Writing a novel takes a long time. It can be a commitment of years. But you can write and see a short story published in a fraction of that time. So you get invaluable encouragement - or, at least, feedback.
  • Some stories just are short stories. That's the length they need to be. It's hard to imagine Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper or Asimov's Nightfall, say, being any longer than they are.
  • Life is too short. They other day I skimmed through my story idea jottings. There are hundreds of them. I may not get round to writing 100 novels before time taps me on the shoulder. I could write 100 short stories.
  • A portfolio of short story writing credits is a way to establish your name, build your platform, find a readership and also hone your own voice.
  • Writing short stories is fun, a release, a distraction from your novel WIP and that tricky plot twist two-thirds of the way in. You can write novels and short stories.
  • In some genres (oh, how I hate that disparaging word), the short-story is very well-established anyway and certainly an end in itself. SF and fantasy are the obvious ones.
  • There are a lot more openings for short fiction : magazines and publishers who will take your work without requiring an agent to act as an intermediary. You only have to look at a site like Duotrope to see how many potential markets there are.
So, seven good reasons, but I'm sure there are others. Did I miss anything? Can you add any reasons to the list? Or do you stick to novels?


  1. Stick to novels? I'm not writing a novel at all, although I may do so one day.

    I enjoyed writing my Nanowrimo novellas, but even those are too long for me to edit comfortably.

    I suppose I'm challenging the assumption that the natural state for a writer is to write novels.

    For now, I shall write short and flash and maybe have a go at those Twitter stories that you're so good at!

  2. I never miss my SF Anthology (comes out yearly and is always on the first on the a-z shelves of waterstone's sci-fi dept)! So yay for short stories. I also think that microfiction and flash fic are a difficult art form (that you do so wonderfully!!!) and so should only be encouraged!

    So yay for short stories again!

    Take care

  3. "A portfolio of short story writing credits is a way to establish your name, build your platform, find a readership and also hone your own voice." That's what I'm going for. Also, I can't help it when in the middle of my WIP, I get a short-form idea and have to run with it for a while. It's a nice break, and I enjoy returning to the WIP when otherwise it might have felt like drudgery.

  4. This is some seriously good advice. I wish I'd heard it before I spent a decade writing an endless string of unpublishable novels. Even now, people tell me my stories sound like the beginnings of novels, because I got in the habit of thinking in the longer form.

    But short fiction is great for all the reasons you say, plus, as Mr. Fowler comments, building platform. If you have any aspirations to write literary fiction, previous publication of short work in literary magazines is pretty much required.

    Another plus--it's much easier to adapt a short story to a screenplay, and if you have any interest in branching into screenwriting, short fiction is the best practice.

    Wish I were better at it.

  5. fairyhedgehog,

    A very fair point - it does sometimes feel a bit like you have to be writing novels while other forms take a back seat. I write a bit of poetry too, and that often feels very marginalised. But we should obviously write what we want to and what suits us best.

    I look forward to reading your Twitter fiction!

  6. Old Kitty,

    Very good point - certainly with SF there's obviously a long and noble tradition of short stories. Long may it continue. I'm with you about the SF anthologies - I always get one of those too.

    Did I ever say I had an honourable mention in one a few years back? No story reprinted though. That's still to be achieved ...

  7. Milo,

    That's a great point. Absolutely. I think it's good for the WIP sometimes to set it aside and think about something else for a time. And I, for one, generally like to have several things on the go at a time. If I'm stuck with one I just think about another for a time and I generally find that, somehow, after a bit, I find I'm not stuck any more.

  8. Anne,

    Interesting points. I'm sure all that novel writing was invaluable experience too.

    You know, I've never even thought about screenwriting. You do see a lot of films etc. that have been adapted from a short story don't you?

  9. I've only written one short story recently, but I really enjoyed it. It was great practise for my novel-plotting and really helped me work on polishing my writing!

  10. Talli,

    I also find I start paying closer attention to word-placement and sentence-structure after I've been writing short fiction for a while. I'm sure that's good practice too.


I'd love to know what you think.