Writing short stories is how I began my journey as writer. Novels seemed a faraway, humongous thing. A decade and more later, I’m proofreading THE BLUE BAR while drafting its sequel. I haven’t given up on writing short stories, and in fact have an entire short story collection ready to be queried, but I find it hard to write both novels and short stories at the same time. I have written flash fiction based in the world of my novel, both on this blog, here, and via my One-Shot Gazette, but anything longer feels like a reach.
This ties neatly into this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group Question: Have you ever been conflicted about writing a story or adding a scene to a story? How did you decide to write it or not?
Writing Short Stories: Turning Scenes into Flash fiction
I’m often conflicted about writing scenes in my novels that show more character or setting than advance plot, and recently these snippets have become the precursors to writing short stories. I can never not write a scene I want to write. The question then becomes whether the world gets to see it, and if yes, in what form. Some scenes remain in my journal, others become flash fiction, like this one, and only the most streamlined to the plot of the novel make it into the larger narrative.
Writing short stories has taught me much about the writing craft, and though the short story writing format and novel writing differ in significant ways, writing a short story teaches you a whole lot about condensing time and space in a line, about showing character with economy, and invoking setting without sacrificing pace.
To expand on the benefits of writing short stories, IWSG host Shannon Lawrence is here to talk about why novelists should dabble in short stories:
When I first started attending writing conferences, novels were the sole focus for all genre: how to write them, how to plot them, how to edit them, and how to sell them. Over the years, I’ve seen a vast improvement in the diversity of writing conferences in terms of viable forms of writing.
It started small, with self-publishing of novels eking in. Then before I knew it there were workshops for playwrights, screenwriters, poets, and even, yes, short story writers. In my local area, I was the one teaching those short story workshops, but that door had been opened. It was finally being acknowledged that, though novels were a given as a viable means to earn the moniker of “author,” there were other ways, too. Now conferences and conventions always seem to have at least one workshop or panel about short stories, and usually more than one.
Even better, each individual can dabble in different forms of writing. A playwright can write poetry. A screenwriter can try out a novel. And a novelist can play around in the playground that is writing short stories!
Writing Short Stories: Why Should a Novelist Try it?
- Try out a different genre
- Work out story/backstory issues
- Expand/explore character/world building
- Additional forms of exposure
- Reader magnets for their websites/newsletters
- Build up a back catalog
- Additional income
- Gain new contacts/network
Here’s a little more detail on some of these aspects:
— Short stories are an excellent way to get in more practice on writing elements writers may struggle with, as well as a safe way to try their hands at new genre. If a romance writer has a sudden urge to write horror, doing so in the form of a short story first may help them dip in their toes in the new genre.
— It’s also easier for a writer (who has written a good story) to get published in different genres with short stories than it is with novels, where the publishing world typically expects writers to stick to a specific genre.
— Short stories can be used in multiple ways to either get exposure or act as reader magnets.
— Just as with novels, short stories can be either traditionally published or self-published. Traditional publishing involves submitting to magazines and anthologies. Having a story in one of these gains that many more sets of eyes who might seek out further work by the authors they’ve discovered in those publications. At the same time, an author may choose to instead self-publish short stories, either individually, bundled, or in a collection.
— Having those short stories in their various forms of publication available adds to an author’s catalog. In this way, an author with only one or two novels out (or zero) may now add titles to their author accounts at Amazon, Goodreads, and BookBub.
— The thing is, the more publications out, the more eyes are possibly drawn to an author’s other works. Self-published authors will often speak of their back catalog, and this is why. An increase in visibility is a boon to an author, however it’s achieved. Writing short stories can be a method for getting that visibility.
— In terms of networking, it can happen multiple ways through short stories. Romance authors have found great success by bundling short stories by different authors and putting them out to their readers. Doing something like this spreads out the visibility from each individual author to the others who have stories in the bundle. Of course, this can also be done with novels, but takes far more work and means a higher price to the reader if the true value is represented. It’s also harder to find that many authors who consistently want to bundle novels with those of other authors. But short stories are doable! More frequently, more quickly, and at a lower cost. The growth in exposure can be exponential, and those readers will keep returning if they’re happy with what they read.
Bundling isn’t the only way an author networks with short stories. If an author is published traditionally, they’ve worked with an editor and been published with other authors. Often, relationships form from these connections. Sometimes with editors and publishers who also handle novels. This can be valuable for future novels, not just short stories.
While selling individual short stories isn’t going to bring in significant income, it never hurts to add any sort of money to the pot. The additional sales and exposure bring in more value than just the money, in ways we’ve only started to touch upon above.
We’re artists! If anyone can find ways to use short stories to improve their careers, it’s writers. Consider the options and ponder whether it’s worth it to take the leap and try out short stories. The worst you will have done is created something different.
A fan of all things fantastical and frightening, Shannon Lawrence writes primarily horror and fantasy. Her stories can be found in over forty anthologies and magazines, and her three solo horror short story collections and her nonfiction title, The Business of Short Stories, are available now. You can also find her as a co-host of the podcast Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem. When she’s not writing, she’s hiking through the wilds of Colorado and photographing her magnificent surroundings, where, coincidentally, there’s always a place to hide a body or birth a monster. Find her at www.thewarriormuse.com.
As a reader do you like novels, or short stories, or both? As an author have you been writing short stories, or novels? As a novelist, have you dabbled in writing short stories? As a writer of short stories, have you written, or considered writing, a novel?
This post was for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which occurs on the first Wednesday of each month. The awesome co-hosts for the March 2 posting of the IWSG are Janet Alcorn, Pat Garcia, Natalie Aguirre, and Shannon Lawrence!
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