However, this isn’t the case nowadays. I’ve learnt to embrace the humble short story, and I suggest you do too. Here’s why.
What Used to be the Problem?
Some writers seem naturally drawn to the short story. Perhaps it’s the brevity itself that they like – the fact that it’s seen as more of a powerful sprint than a drawn-out marathon. Or maybe it’s their restrictive nature, which forces you to consider the role of every word.
Whatever the case, I simply didn’t get it. This wasn’t through lack of trying, I might add. I’d spent countless hours trying to nail it, without much success. Quite simply, I found writing short stories to be:
- Frustrating. I struggled to define characters and plots with such a short amount of words to work with.
- Difficult to structure. Invariably, my earlier efforts seemed to be vignettes rather than fully formed tales.
- Poorly paced. The beginning always started at a smooth, pleasant chug, only to race along like an out-of-control car at the end, because I’d suddenly realised I was running out of available room!
Learning to Love the Short Story
However, like any other form of writing, crafting a short story is a matter of practice. I can say this with total authority, because only a year ago, I would have described myself as useless at them, yet recently I managed to get one of my short stories longlisted in a national competition. It wasn’t a huge deal for anyone else – but it really was for me! It was the moment when I finally thought ‘hooray, I don’t suck at this as much as I thought’.
If you’re a skilled short story writer, you probably know how to create the perfect tiny tale already. However, if you’re like me and flounder with it a bit, here’s a few things I’ve learnt along the way. As ever – full disclaimer – I’m no expert!
- The story needs a purpose. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But my goodness, the number of times I’ve zoomed headfirst into writing a short story, without really knowing what message I was trying to convey.
- It requires depth. It’s not so difficult to write a plot for a short story – something that rattles along to a satisfactory conclusion. However, it’s harder to go deeper with it, to give the reader something to think about – but if you pull it off, it immediately makes the tale that much more satisfying.
- It needs careful editing. I’ve since learnt that editing a short story really is an art form in itself. Every word needs to be agonised over, to reflect whether it actually contributes to the story or not. Sentences constantly need to be tweaked, or even stripped out ruthlessly. In short, you have to be brutal as anything.
Why Do It?
Why bother writing short stories at all, particularly if you’re more a novel-writing kinda guy / gal? It’s a good question (and one I’ve uttered myself in the past). These days, my attitude is very different. Crafting short stories enriches your overall writing, and provides you with valuable new skills. Allow me to explain.
- Brevity. If you’re a natural-born waffler like me, writing short stories is a godsend. It teaches you to cut unnecessary flannel, and how to create sharp sentences that drive straight to the heart of the matter.
- Exploring new ideas. Coming up with an idea for a novel is very different to finding inspiration for a short story. Generally speaking, the concept itself should be simple (yet thought-provoking) – giving you freedom to use those limited words in a more artful, poetic way.
- Editing. As I mentioned before, you’ll definitely become a better editor through writing short stories. You’ll learn how to slice, dice and butcher your writing, in order to transform it into something that’s 100% better.
What do you think of short stories? Do you love them or loathe them? Do feel free to share your thoughts via social media!
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