Written by A Guest Author February 1st, 2024

Ten Reasons to Write Short Stories

By Simon Kewin

For most authors, writing a novel – or many novels – is the ultimate aim of a writing career. It’s fair to say that most people read only novels and it’s certainly true that most publishing houses and agents are interested only in novel manuscripts – although there are exceptions. By and large, it’s novels that get onto best-seller lists and win big awards.

So, why write short stories or flash stories? I think there are lots of good reasons. Here are ten of them:

  1. Writing a novel can take a long time. Some authors can create one in a few months, but it can be a commitment of one or more years. But you can write and see a short story published in a fraction of that time. I know from experience that a flash story can be written, polished and submitted all on the same day. So you get invaluable encouragement – or, failing that, perhaps some feedback. You certainly get a sense of achievement. I wonder how many novels are abandoned part-way through because the creation process feels endless. Setting a book aside for a time and writing a complete short piece can give you the encouragement you need that you can complete a story.
  2. Some stories just are short. That’s the length they need to be. It’s hard to imagine Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper or Asimov’s Nightfall, say, as being any longer than they are. Short story magazines are full of pieces that are perfectly formed in a couple of thousand words. They have their believable world; their beginning, middle and end; their character arc and their satisfying conclusion. For the writer, learning to craft a satisfying story in a relatively small word count is good practice, a way of learning to only set down the words that need to be set down. There is little scope for repetition or flannel in a short story.
  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. For many writers (I include myself in this), one of the obstacles to building a writing career is overcoming the imposter syndrome. The sense of “I’m not a real writer”. Having some short stories published is a way of proving to the world – but more importantly to yourself – that you are, indeed, a writer and that you can do this.
  4. Life is too short. The other day I skimmed through my story idea jottings. There are hundreds of them. I may not get round to writing a hundred novels before time taps me on the shoulder, but I could certainly write a hundred short stories. And maybe doing so would tell me which stories could be developed into something longer. Speaking of which…
  5. Novels can grow out of short stories. I’ve already mention Nightfall, which was turned into a full-length novel many years after the original short story was published. I’ve written at least one novel that started life as a piece of short fiction. Which is not to say that I simply took the old story and added extra descriptions and sub-plots. Rather, I took the world I’d created in the short story, along with some of the characters, and wrote a different (but related) story. Once I’d finished the short piece, I found that there was a much larger tale to tell. Writing a short story can open up a whole world of possibilities you weren’t aware of, like a sketch made before a painting.
  6. By the same token, if you’re mid-way through a novel, and there’s a character or a situation you want to know more about, writing them a separate side story can be a useful way of fleshing them out, bringing them to life. It also means you have a short story that can act as a taster for your novel’s world for readers to try out. This leads me to the fact that…
  7. You can write novels and short stories at the same time. Writing short stories is fun, a release, a distraction from your novel work-in-progress and that tricky plot twist 60,000 words in. Sometimes it’s best to let your subconscious work away on some sticking point: rather than stare at the blinking cursor, write something else completely. I find that if I try to force my mind to resolve a particular plot problem, it refuses and thinks about another story entirely. Maybe that’s just me. But, having a couple of pieces on the go means that you’re not stuck if one is bogged down. And, it’s strange how, when you suddenly see how one story needs to develop, ideas for another tale, something else you’re working on, come along too.
  8. In some genres, the short story is very well-established and certainly an end in itself. The speculative fiction genres are the obvious ones to mention: here, short stories are read widely, there are prestigious awards and so on. That said, there are numerous short story magazines in just about every genre imaginable. Authors such as Raymond Carver, writing in a more realist mode, have been able to make their name as “a short story writer”. Speaking of short story magazines…
  9. There are a lot more openings for short fiction than for novels. There are many, many short fiction markets looking for submissions – and who will take your work without requiring an agent to act as an intermediary. These days, even finding these markets is pretty straightforward: there are several web sites that collect and publish the guidelines from short story magazines, allowing you to search for the perfect outlet for your story.
  10. Finally, it’s worth mentioning money. Selling short stories can provide a steadier stream of income as compared to writing novels. It all depends upon the success your creations enjoy, of course, but selling some short stories can provide an income while the end of a novel is nowhere in sight. It may or may not be enough to live off (let’s be honest, probably not), but being paid for your writing always feel great. What’s more, there are numerous markets that accept reprints of short stories, as well as some that will pay you again for audio rights or foreign translation rights. With luck, a short story can earn its keep in multiple ways while you get on with that novel.

Bio: Simon Kewin is the author of over 100 published short and flash stories. His works have appeared in Analog, Nature, Daily Science Fiction and many more. He’s also the author of the Cloven Land fantasy trilogy, cyberpunk thriller The Genehunter, steampunk Gormenghast saga Engn, the Triple Stars sci/fi trilogy and the Office of the Witchfinder General books, published by Elsewhen Press. In 2022, he was an SPSFC semi-finalist, had a short story shortlisted for a Utopia award and won the Tales by Moonlight Editor’s Prize for his fantasy novella The Clockwork King. He lives deep in the English countryside. Find him at simonkewin.co.uk and at @SimonKewin on Twitter.



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