Short stories are not as great as novels. No question. Writers who produce great books rarely produce great short stories. The only exceptions to this rule I’ve found are Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, and H.P. Lovecraft. I’m sure there are a few others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write short stories. Because it’s difficult to write a good one, writing short stories helps you grow as a writer. That’s not the only benefit.
There are many ways short stories can make your novel better. The short stories you write before attempting a novel make you better at writing beginnings and endings. The short stories you write while writing your novel can be used on a short story blog to show samples of your writing and promote your novel. Short stories that are related to your novel have several uses I’ll describe below.
Short Stories as Writing Practice
Read any book or article on how to become a novelist and you will be told to start by writing short stories. The first thing you will notice is that it takes a long time to write just a few thousand words. Writing short stories gives you some time to learn to write faster before attempting a 100,000 word book.
Another advantage of writing short stories is that you will get practice at writing beginnings and endings. A good opening will hook readers into reading more. A good ending will leave them wanting more. The best place to fail on each is in short stories. Master opening hooks and satisfying endings with short stories and you’ve done a lot for your future manuscript writing efforts.
There are other skills you could use practice with too. Writing dialog, description, and narrative are all different challenges. Find a reader who’s willing to review your writing and tell you what they did and didn’t like. You’ll also want to practice editing. After re-writes, the best way to improve your writing is editing. That means cutting what isn’t necessary. It can mean adding, re-writing, and re-arranging too, but cutting is what will give your stories the biggest boost. The rule is: Cut big, then small.
Short Stories as Fiction Samples
Share your short stories by selling them to magazines or post them on a blog. There are several sites that offer free blogs as long as you don’t advertise anything except your own books. I use wordpress.com. Blogger is also popular.
When you put your work out there where people can read it, some are going to be looking for your books.
One warning about blogs. You can get caught up writing posts to feed your blog and not have time to write your novels. Blogs seem to do okay if you post between one and three times a week. Find a frequency that you can stick to and avoid frustration. Don’t worry about the number of unpublished short stories or articles piling up. When you’re into writing a book, you won’t have time to write posts and you can put them up then.
Short Stories From Your Novel
Writing short stories that relate to your novel can be useful in several ways. When you get stuck, and you will, writing a short story related to the people or location where you’re stuck can pull up ideas to get you back on track. How else can short stories help?
Adding to the Length of the Novel
Most novels have at least a few short stories inside. Some are stories the narrator tells so that you will understand the background of a character or the motivation behind upcoming events. Other short stories are told to a character while the reader listens in. There can be short stories that happen while a character is waiting to make their next move. Even the main narrative can include short stories by going into greater detail on what is happening.
The target length of a novel for new authors is set at about 100,000 words if you plan to go through traditional paper publishers. You’ll make less commission with traditional publishers than with e-book publishing, and you’ll still need to do your own editing and marketing, and… well, I can’t see good reasons to go with traditional publishers, but it’s your choice. If you write an e-book, you should still aim for 100,000 words. Shorter won’t be as good as full length and longer may be too much of a challenge. I guarantee that 100,000 words will make you feel challenged.
You could wait until you finish the first draft and add short stories in the second if you come up short. What’s better is to write them into the first draft and consider cutting them if it’s too long. What can you do with those stories you cut?
Get Readers Interested in Characters in Your Novel
As long as the short stories you cut from your novel have a beginning, middle, and end they are complete. You can sell them to magazines or post them on your blog as teasers to promote your novel. Add a preface or afterward to explain how they relate to your novel and wait until you’re close to publishing to put them out there.
You can also write short stories related to your novel that were never in it. Write an interesting story about a character, group, or event in your novel and some readers will buy the book because they want more.
Deepen Your Understanding of People and Places in Your Novel
One experience most writers have while writing a novel is that characters start out as one-dimensional stereotypes and turn into real people as the story unfolds. This is one of the messes that needs to be cleaned up in the second draft. You can limit this problem by writing short stories about the characters when you introduce them. The stories can be part of the novel or independent stories to use for promoting it. Writing those stories let’s you understand the character better and will give you more to say about them in the novel.
Short stories are also good for the backgrounds of characters, buildings, and locations. Some of these “histories” will be boring. Write them and hide them away. They will still help you with narrative and description.
You may also need some short stories within the novel to reveal information even though the character involved may not be important. For example, a minor character talks about how easy it is to conceal a certain type of weapon. Five chapters later, a different character pulls such a weapon from concealment in a fight. How about a lighter example? A character talks about Blini’s, comparing them to subs and hoagies because later in the story there is going to be a scene where people are eating Blini’s but too much will be going on to segue into explaining what they are.
I’m starting to get away from short stories now and talking about foreshadowing. You can see how there will be a fuzzy line between a clear short story and partial stories as you write your novel.
That’s how short stories can help your novel.
Article by Ivan Izo.