Ten Reasons to Write Short Stories

short stories once-upon-a-time-719174_640Short stories are everywhere, but how do you know if you should be taking time away from your novel to hammer out a couple of short fiction pieces? For the most part, short stories are not very lucrative. If you’ve published a couple of novels, it might even be harder to look at short stories as the best use of your time.

If you’re on the fence, here are a few reasons you might want to consider adding short stories to your repertoire.

1.     You love them. Yes, if you love to write short stories, then do it. You don’t have to feel guilty about the novel collecting dust. After all, writing is a passion and you need to follow your path.

2.     Intellectual Property. When you publish a short story, you create intellectual property. Maybe you have an idea that you want to get on paper but don’t have the full story yet. Whether it’s a character, place or concept, you can establish your intellectual property by publishing a story surrounding your idea. This gives you something more than an idea to pitch to agents, publishers, video game makers … you get my drift.

3.     Experimentation. It takes time … a lot of time … to write a novel. If you have a new idea and you’re not sure how it will fly, you can always write a short story to test your concept. Within weeks, you can have a finished product that might have some legs.

4.     Crossover. Does your audience know you as a Young Adult, Romance, or SciFi author? How do you break out of that mold if you have other ideas? Short stories give you an opportunity to test your writing chops in other genres, to build a base of fans that will help you when you’re ready to tell the world that you are a horror writer, too!

5.      Collections. When you’ve written enough short stories (Captain Obvious here) you can turn it into a book. Indies Unlimited helps authors come together with its flash fiction anthologies. You can find the latest, The 2014 Flash Fiction Anthology here. Now you get to piggyback on the work of some great, bestselling authors. The exposure for you is priceless.

6.     Dollars. Yes, you can actually earn money with short stories. Just ask Hugh Howey. With all his success, he still earns royalties on published short stories.

7.     Engagement. Short stories are a great way to stay engaged with your fans between novels. Your short story could be a side story to a previous novel or an “origins” story that links to a character in your novels.

8.     Rut Breaker. Are you in a rut? Having trouble moving your novel along? Try jumping into a short story about something completely different from the subject you’re stuck on. The act of writing is sometimes all you need to get your groove back.

9.     Loss Leader. Many people hate the idea of giving a novel away for free. They have less of a problem doing so with a short story. Why not make a short story permafree to open the door to new readers?

10.   Backlist Expansion. If you’ve only got a couple of books on your backlist and it’s going to be a while longer before you can get your next novel out, turning out a couple of short stories could make your author resume look a lot fuller.

and a bonus….

11.   Contests. Many ezines, magazines, and anthologies have contests rewarding the winners with publication, and sometimes – even cash prizes. Having a couple of short stories ready to go could give you some material if one of these opportunities arise. (At IU, we run free contest posts every Monday morning – see if one fits your stories.)

Writing short stories is not a short cut to writing. It’s important to consider that a short story incorporates the same story development as a novel. A good short story generates feelings in the reader and that don’t happen without good character development, plot points, and consequences based on actions.

We all know that writing is a head game. Short stories are a great way to keep your head in the right place. Whether you publish or not, short stories give you those small victories when times are tough, when the flow isn’t happening. Nothing feels better that finishing a story. Use short stories to your advantage to keep the positive flow during those long writing droughts.

How do short stories play a role in your writing career?

Author: Jim Devitt

Jim Devitt’s debut YA novel, The Card, hit #1 in three separate categories on the Kindle Bestseller list in early January and was a finalist in the Guys Can Read Indie Author Contest this past summer. Devitt currently lives in Miami, FL with his wife Melissa and their children. Learn more about Jim at his blog and his Amazon author page.

29 thoughts on “Ten Reasons to Write Short Stories”

  1. Great info, Jim. And speaking of Hugh Howey, some of his short stories just knock me out. They are the perfect springboard to new novels, and I wish he’d get busy! What’s interesting about shorts, tho, is that they leave you with all kinds of possibilities about where you can go from there. Excellent inspiration.

    1. Thanks, Melissa. Hugh is the perfect example of how to do short stories. You get a lot of bang for your buck and the possibilities are limitless.

  2. I’m in the process of using a few short stories for world-building/extending and at the request of fans. A while ago, one said something like “I like your character Gruff, but why’s he like that? Where’d he come from?” I thought it was a good idea and 18k words later that fan has an answer. That question was put to book 1 in my series and I’m now incorporating the new elements I created in the short story into book 2, so it’s now fully integrated.

    That’s another great (set of) reason(s), in my book. You can extend your world “on the cheap”, make it permafree, as listed above, for little expended effort and create a fuller world for your readers across more stories.

    Short stories, as a real part of your novel series, are a win-win-win. Think of them as like the Christmas specials a lot of TV series make.

    1. Thanks Raymond. You very nicely demonstrated the value of short stories. It really is a win-win.

  3. Great, great post, Jim. Your reasons checked all the boxes why I often “write short.” Sometimes I want to explore an idea, but not dedicate three months of my life to getting it out on paper. Shorts are perfect for that. Besides, I’ve always loved shorter works, from O. Henry up to Stephen King. How can I not write what I love to read myself?

    Thanks!

    1. Thanks, Shawn. I couldn’t have said it better myself. You’ve even inspired me to get back to shorts.

  4. I don’t write short stories very often because I find them very hard to do well. For two reasons. One is that I think a short story needs an idea with real punch. Unless you have a theme or a twist or an event that is really going to grab people, its never going to be powerful. Also, I equate short stories with poetry: you have a very few words, and you have to choose every one with care. So it takes a lot longer to write a short story than it does an equivalent number of novel words.
    Once in a long while I am struck by a great idea, and then I write it up. But there are only two that I thought worthy to put up on my website.
    Face it, I’m just a lazy novel writer who doesn’t want to think that hard 🙂

    1. Thanks, Gordon. Great insight on the short story process. You are absolutely right. They are very hard to write well. Every word counts and it must deliver.

  5. Whereas I think of writing a novel as running a marathon, writing shorts stories is a series of sprints. Each of those sprints, however, carries you farther than you think. Short stories teach us how to make every word count–how to compartmentalize and condense–and that, in turn, helps hone our overall writing skills. It’s a win-win, no matter how you look at it. Thanks for pointing that out, Jim!

  6. Yes, all that. I did an indie-writer twist on “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” as a perma-free “thank you”/Christmas prezzie for fans and fellow writers last year, with a crappy homemade cover. It got only two reviews, and no ranking to speak of, and yet I still found that it drove in sales (I know this because when I pulled it down sales dipped.) It’s back now with a better cover and it’s doing exactly the same — no new reviews, terrible ranking, but it gets me a new buyer for the novels every couple of days or so. I’ll take it. One of these days I’ll actually try to promote it.

    1. One of the beauties of the short story. Congrats on the success. Sometimes numbers and rankings don’t mean a thing. Thanks for sharing, Sandra.

  7. There’s one more reason. Those stories may actually be part of the novel you’re struggling with – but you just might not know that yet. It happened to me.

    I was writing a novel. My WIP. It stalled last year. For a whole year. All I could do was write these blinking short stories that kept forcing their way into my brain. They were all around the same kinds of marine-enviromental topics I always write about.
    I finally went back to the novel and suddenly the short stories were slotting themselves into the novel as complete chapters already written. I found a place for about 75% of those stories in the novel. It was weird. my subconscious is so out of touch with my conscious brain that I was in fact working on the novel without being aware of it.

    1. Also, some of the ones that didn’t fit into the novel, may be useful to be included with it as an extra bonus for readers, since the novel is only around 50,000 words -so quite short. Either that or for use as permafree intros to my writing as you have suggested above.

  8. Nice post, Jim, thank you. I’m a big fan of writing short fiction between longer work. For me, it’s also been a great exercise to keep the writing muscles in shape and to explore new territory. Who knew this novelist would enjoy writing flash fiction so much? It really forces you to get down to the bones of a story.

    1. Thanks, Laurie. It’s definitely a great way to “write every day” and sharpen our skills.

  9. Sometimes story ideas aren’t complex enough for a full-fledged novel, so a condensed version is better. Often, though, short stories can have just as much of an impact on readers. Because of their terse length, plot and characters have to make a strong and direct hit on the audience. That can have a stronger emotional and psychological effect, but with fewer words.

  10. My first book was a collection of short stories. It had a lot wrong with it, but still sold over 1,400 hardback copies. Since then I have written mostly full length books, although I have been stockpiling shorts which were written as ‘concept’ stories, to see if the tale had the legs to make a whole book.

    This is where sort stories are so useful, in polishing ones skill, and in recording those moments one might one day want to develop into something longer, or to integrate with related stories to make a whole book.

    After a bit of tidying up and swapping one story which became part of a full length book (they’re all true stories, by the way), it should be reissued later this year.

    1. Good job, Ian. Another perfect example of the value of short stories. Good luck with your release.

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