The Power of The Short Story

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?

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April Killingsworth @ Creative Commons

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.

ianIan 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.

About BECCA PUGLISI

Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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37 Responses to The Power of The Short Story

  1. HL Gibson says:

    This is the second post I’ve read regarding short stories, and I’m curious: do people really think short stories are a waste of time? That’s where I started. Even when writing my novel, I took time to write flash fiction and short stories to break up the monotony and help with writer’s block. I’d appreciate any critiques to my stories posted on my blog, hlgibsonauthor.com, under Read & Relax. Thanks!

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  3. While working on my first novel, I have found it difficult to finish a novel. Not sure if I just made bad choices or if I have trouble focusing on anything for long as I end up thinking about my current story or future ones.
    Short stories are the perfect answer to that shorter attention span. And, MAYBE if I read enough of them, I may start to understand how to write them!
    Thanks for the advice. Anybody here care to share some of their favorite short story books?
    Sherrie
    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1946619846/secrets-and-lies-in-el-salvador-is-the-novel-i-am
    P.S. I also want to put together a collection of stories about the aftermath of war. Any suggestions on how I would go about doing that?

    • Ian Martyn says:

      I always end up thinking of new projects as I’m writing – often as a result of a short story! Also, the next one always seem to be the most exciting and if I’m stuck I do start on something else, it frees the mind. I’ve got more ideas than I think I’ll ever have time to write. As for volumes of short stories, mine are sci-fi. As in the article Robert Silverberg edits some classics in science fiction 101. Isaac Asimov wrote many – Bicentennial Man is a collection of his robot stories. Another favourite author is Alistair Reynolds and he has a collection called ‘Zima Blue’

    • Ian Martyn says:

      As for a collection of short stories. I am putting mine together using an e-book template I purchased for my full length books from the book designer.com. I intend to make it available for a minimal price and include a couple chapters from one of my books. Hopefully to generate some interest in my work.

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  6. healed1337 says:

    Great post about writing short stories.

    Another good reason to write one is to warm up for a larger project; exploring both major and minor characters with a smaller story to see what they would do in certain situations. They’re fun to play around with perspective; to see through the eyes of characters you normally wouldn’t see through.

    • Ian Martyn says:

      Good idea. I have also thought of using one (perhaps a long short story, if that makes sense) as a prequel to give away on the release of my next novel. I know others have done this.

  7. Lata says:

    I’ve been trying out flash fiction, short stories on my blog. pls critique them so i can come out with better stuff. Thank you.

    • Ian Martyn says:

      I see you do FlashFriday, so do I. I like what you did with last week’s picture. Just one thing, in the first two sentences you repeat the word Ocean and later one you use ‘in my life’ in consecutive sentences. I would replace one of each with an alternative word / phrase to add interest. I’ll try to have a look at your short stories. Best advice, keep reading and writing, it is all practice.

  8. Saumya says:

    Thank you so much for this. I have been toying with a couple of short story ideas for a while and have struggled with completing one.

    • Ian Martyn says:

      All I can suggest is give it a go, start writing and see where it takes you. I often don’t know how they are going to end when I start

  9. Julie Musil says:

    You know, I used to write short magazine stories. But after I started writing novels, I haven’t gone back to shorts. You give good reasons for jumping back in. Thanks!

  10. jeffo says:

    Nice post, all good reasons for writing shorts. I rarely set out with the intention of writing a short story, but every once in a while I hit on something that grabs me and insists I write it. My problem is with submissions. Duotrope, Grinder etc., are great, but finding markets and submitting is perhaps even more time consuming than querying agents for novels!

    • Ian Martyn says:

      I find that sometimes story ideas are just ‘short stories’, trying to stretch them would spoil them. As for submissions I know what you mean, I go through phases. What I am doing is putting a number of my shorts together in a volume of my own, rather than leaving them gathering dust.

  11. :Donna Marie says:

    You know, this is not the first time the value of the short story has been in my face and I STILL haven’t picked up the books I have here *sigh* I hope this helps nudge my memory in these helpful ways you’ve suggested.

    Recently, on Cynthia Martin Newberry’s blog, the second of a 3-part post addressed the short story form. I think it would interest you. I know it did me! 😀

    http://catchingdays.cynthianewberrymartin.com/2014/10/02/catching-jauss-david-jauss-on-munro-chekhov-carver-and-the-short-story/

  12. I’ve recently done this, to happy results!!

  13. I always prided myself as preferring novels over short stories, when in fact the few short pieces I’ve done are better than my novels anyway. I think the novel sounds grand, while the short story – people think, well, anyone can write a short story, can’t they?

    But I completely agreed with Ian’s points, too. I’m pretty swayed, and will definitely try out some short stories soon! Thanks Ian.

    • Ian Martyn says:

      Excellent – short stories are a different discipline and well worth the effort. I still go back and enjoy re-reading some of my favourites.

  14. Sara L. says:

    I’m actually thinking about writing a short story next year after I finish my WIP novel. (The short story would take place in the novel’s world, 3 or 4 years before the novel begins.) So, the timing of this article was perfect for me. Thank you, Ian!

    • Ian Martyn says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. Another bonus for me is that some short stories have turned into ideas for novels. The only problem now is that I’ve now got more ideas than I think I’ll ever find time to write.

  15. Judith Schiller says:

    Hello Ian,

    This is timely for me also. I have the beginning and the ending sentences for a story I have been kicking around in my head for 2 months….besides my novel. I was going to save it for a a possible future novel, but now I think I will turn it into a short story. I have done nonfiction for several magazines, yet I know doing the short story
    will be tougher. However, maybe it will be a lot of fun, too! Thanks for your great
    article here.

    • Ian Martyn says:

      As I mentioned above, often writing the short story provides ideas for a longer project. They are a great place to experiment.

  16. Paula Cappa says:

    Writing short stories goes hand in hand with reading short stories. I read at least two or three short stories a week for my fiction blog because it’s really helpful to see how other writers handle the short form in fiction. I’ve sold several shorts to ezines and literary journals and, I agree, it’s another avenue to publishing and building author platform. I recently entered a contest for 100-word short story. Not easy to do well! Every single word counts. I will check out Robert Silverberg’s ‘Science fiction 101’. Science fiction stories are especially challenging, I think. Thanks for a very informative post today!

    • Ian Martyn says:

      I too keep reading shorts – in my case its the ‘Asimov’ sci-fi publication. If nothing else it’s a lesson in being succinct as well as a way to sample a new idea in one sitting. As for the Robert Silverberg books the bonus is his reasoning as to why they work.

  17. Dupe says:

    I just finished an e-book short story and came up with the idea of giving it out as a gift to new subscribers. Interesting that I received your blog post just at the time I was rounding up. Thanks and I intend to write more.

    • Ian Martyn says:

      One idea I’ve seen is where an author has produced a short story, or novella, as a gift to subscribers that acts as an intro or prequel to a novel. It’s a unique reward for those that take time to follow an author. For any author loyal followers are worth cherishing.

  18. Wendy Clarke says:

    I’m two stories off selling my hundredth – there’s nothing like the short story!

  19. Leila Wilson says:

    I found this most interesting to read and helpful too so thank you for this. I too used to be in a writing group before the owner of the group closed it down due to personal pressures. We also had monthly challenges and competitions to write short stories (maximum 3000 words) or poetry too. One month the challenge was indeed a challenge! We had to write a story limited to 300 words! We also had the chance to have a go at various poetry styles and an acrostic poem was very popular. I now write a minimum of 750 words daily when I can using the 750 word site wherein each member has their own private place to write anything at all. If you take up the monthly challenge anything you write must be a minimum of 750 words. If you just want to write now and then you can be as short or as long as you wish. I find it so helpful to do this. Short stories can be really well worth writing and reading too.

    • Ian Martyn says:

      I like the idea of the 750 words site. Sometimes it’s just good to get away from the ‘big project’ I also regularly enter a 150 word flash fiction competition on Fridays ‘FlashFriday’

  20. Lizzie says:

    Thanks for this Ian!

    I, too, am toying with the idea of writing short stories alongside my current novel as a way to hash out my imagination and to practice writing in different voices about different things. I’ve been reading loads of flash fiction lately to get inspiration and so far it’s working!

    • Ian Martyn says:

      See – above. I regularly do a flash fiction competition, I even occasionally get a mention! I now have so many short stories I’m editing and selecting some to publish as a collection.

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