I have a confession. *whispers* I’ve never been interested in writing short stories. I put so much planning and research into my writing that it always seemed like kind of a waste of time to write something so…short. But after hearing Ian Martyn’s arguments in favor of short story writing, I can absolutely see his point. As a matter of fact, I think I’m going to recommend his Inspiration Word exercise to my writing group…
In one of my blogs, I advocate blog writing as a tool for improving your writing, whatever your genre or subject. However, today I want to champion short story writing, and also the reading of short stories. I think too often these pieces are dismissed as less important than full-length novels—somehow frivolous or not worthy of our attention.
I’m a member of a writing group, and at the end of every session we are given a word. We can write whatever we want, and occasionally I have experimented with poetry, which for a fiction writer is always an interesting exercise. However, most of my efforts result in short stories. Some of the stories on my site come from those inspiration words: Weather Vane, Dancing, Pickpocket, Watching. I have numerous others, some of which I am trying to edit and submit to competitions and others that I will try to publish.
So as an author, why should you spend your precious time on short stories?
1) They’re fun. I mean it, they are. In my writing group, we’re given a word and one week to produce the goods. (OK sometimes I get behind, but never mind). For me, the result turns out to be about 1500 words long; I think the reason for this is because with a piece of this length, there is enough room to explore a topic without distracting me too much from my other work. Anyway, after some wracking of brain cells I get the first inkling of an idea and then run with it. For a writer, that’s great. Enthusiasm for writing any story is usually greatest at the beginning. When writing shorter works, you get to feel that energy more often—energy that will often transfer to your other writing projects.
2) They provide the opportunity for quicker feedback. Because short stories don’t take as long to write, you’re able to share more often with writing groups or critiquers. This means you get feedback faster and can more quickly apply what you’ve learned during the process. If you’re not a member of a writing group, pass your short story around to friends and family and ask them for feedback. It’s a little easier than having them review something you’ve worked on for months. Also, non-writers will find a shorter piece less daunting to critique, and they’re more likely to be honest, especially if you tell them you’re ‘experimenting’.
3) They provide the chance to experiment. Short stories provide the opportunity for you to try out new ideas, writing styles, even different genres, to see if they work. It’s hard to do this with a novel, because you’re often too invested to feel comfortable experimenting. I’ve read science fiction short stories by a number of authors including Asimov and Alistair Reynolds, and I’m sure this was their goal (in part) when writing these successful pieces.
4) They provide more outlets for getting your work out there. Earlier, I mentioned my intent to enter some of my short stories in competitions. I also intend to submit more to magazines. If you are inspired to write short stories or you have a few already gathering dust, why not do the same? What have you got to lose? If you’re successful, you’ve gotten your name out there. Even if you don’t succeed, you’ve gotten valuable experience polishing a piece for publication, and that’s good practice for when you’re revising your novels.
5) Reading short stories gets the wheels turning. Take time out from reading novels to try short stories. It’s a great way to sample different ideas and styles, learn, and get inspiration. In the ‘Inspiration’ section of my site I list Robert Silverberg’s ‘Science fiction 101’, in which he reviews some classic sci-fi short stories, explaining why he thinks they’re so good. For anyone writing short stories in this or any genre, I would recommend taking a look at these. Then pick out other writers’ shorts to check out. And don’t forget all the short story magazines; there are many out there in all genres
So that’s five reasons why I think writing (and reading) the humble, often overlooked short story is such a good idea. Which makes me realise that I now need to go away and work on a few more for my site. Perhaps you’ll read then and make a comment. If you have short stories on your site, let me know. I’ll try to have a look and comment in return.
Ian Martyn lives in Surrey in the United Kingdom. Following a degree in Zoology he spent thirty years working in the pharmaceutical industry. On leaving to become a consultant he was determined to complete and publish those science fiction stories that he had started and were rattling around in his head. He has now published two of those stories, Project Noah and Ancestral Dreams on Kindle, available through Amazon. You can find more about Ian Martyn, his books, and blogs on his website.