The Long and the Short of It

I ran across an article recently that discussed the possibly problematic situation: many rookie writers seem to focus of writing novels when the best way to break into the writing industry is through short stories and non-fiction articles (at least with regards to traditional publishing.) That isn’t necessarily the case with self-publishing. Nevertheless – many established writers agree that the best way to learn writing, beyond knowing the ins and outs of the technical elements of your craft, is to write as much and as often as you can. Writing shorter works of fiction allows for completing more individual pieces with greater diversity. You can experiment with more styles, narrative devices, genres and perspectives if you are writing eighteen to twenty short stories rather than one novel.

So why are newbies inclined towards longer fiction? I can’t speak for all rookies, but when I first started putting a real effort into my fiction, I found writing short stories too restrictive. You have to contain plot, characters, dialogue, and description within a much smaller space. Not only do you have to be concise with your words, but you have to be both concise and still effective with your ideas. I always found shorter works all the more challenging, fighting to hold back all the background information, supplemental details and subplot threads begging to escape.

Initially, I wrote a handful of short stories and then focussed my attention on novels. After I had written ten, and was still unpublished, my husband said: “You should write some more short stories – they are easier to get published if you’re new.” I hadn’t been considering self-publishing then.

“I’m no good at short stories,” I insisted.

After frustrating efforts to get notice from agents failed, I decided maybe he was right. I started writing more short stories – and within a couple of months I had my first short story sale.  I’ve made progress from then on.

I still find shorter works challenging, but not as much as I used to, and between short stories I continue to write novels as a break. I’m working on my twenty-first novel right now. I still have to push myself to work on short stories, more than five dozen completed to date, and flash fiction is the most difficult to get just right.

Anyway, to continue getting practice, and for motivation’s sake, I’m declaring April my “Short Story Challenge” month. I aim to write at least a dozen shorts during the month, responding to given requests for submissions. I’ll even be asking others to throw specific challenges my way – daring me to write and submit based on existing postings out there. I end up with some of my best short story work that way.

Maybe you might have something in mind for me, once April rolls around.

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3 comments on “The Long and the Short of It

  1. Thanks for the great post, Chantal.
    I also began with short fiction then switched to novels, as I think is likely the case for many writers (the idea of writing 70000 + words when you’re just starting out is daunting, to say the least). As a novelist, there is a lot to be learned from writing short fiction, especially if you are working within a particular word count, because it demands a focus on word choices and selecting what needs to be in the story versus what you want to leave out. I’ve found that experience invaluable and think every writer should bring some of the sensibilities of short story crafting to their longer works.

    • I plan on making a submission every day in April, both older and newer stories, but I’m looking forward to being challenged with unusual requests for submission to meet.

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