If you’re reading this article because you want to have a sneak peek at the cover of my upcoming short story, please feel free to jump ahead. Otherwise, enjoy this article!
Many novel writers start developing their skills by writing short stories. Stephen King and Elisabeth Gilbert, just to name a few.
These writers tend to agree that writing short stories has helped them developing essential skills that later served them when they started writing novels.
But many other writers have often said that short stories are so different from novels, they had little to teach them on how to survive writing their first book.
At this point I think it all depends on your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I know many extremely prolific writers that have no problem finishing countless first drafts in very short periods of time.
In these cases, writing short stories may not be the best way to practice your craft. You already know you can finish writing an entire novel. It’s not stamina you need, it’s something else.
But if you struggle to finish your first draft or if you have countless unfinished drafts lying around… then maybe, just maybe, you may need to train your writing muscle and build more stamina.
A lack of stamina is my weakness too when it comes to writing. I can often work on a story for a few hours a week, but I rarely get it past the 5,000 words.
So I chose to focus on writing short stories, instead of driving myself insane with all my unfinished drafts.
In this article, I want to share the greatest challenges and the best advice I ever got that have helped me to finally start writing short stories.
The best advice I ever got about writing short stories
- Stick to one theme and a single emotion
A novel can contain many themes and explore many emotions. A short story can’t.
Good short stories are mostly about a single theme and they are surrounded by a single emotion. This emotion could be guilt, doubt, curiosity, or other emotions that carry a question within them. If you try to explore too many ramifications of the same theme, you’ll end you dispersing your reader’s attention.
In this way, simplicity is key when writing a short story. Make it about a single question, and instead of writing down that question in the story, try to show the question to your reader through your protagonist’s thoughts and actions.
- Keeping the resolution simple
The resolution is important. But in novels, the resolution is often a magnificent moment with intricate details and ramifications. You can’t use the same tactics in a short story.
All stories are about change, but while novels can make the character change deeply, short stories are mostly about the character either coming to terms with their past or realizing something about themselves, others or the choices they made.
In novels the resolution is about deep change. But in short stories it should be about the character gaining new insights about himself or about the world.
- Every sentence must have a purpose
Every sentence in a short story must do either of two things: reveal a character’s struggles or move the story forward.
We writers love to plague our readers with infinite backstories. But in short-form fiction we just don’t have the space to do that. Or at least we should try to minimize it! Maybe those backstories are important to you, but they may not be relevant to the reader.
I’m still guilty of doing this in my own stories, it takes time and distance from one’s work to recognize the unessential parts of a story. But does this mean that characters in short stories shouldn’t have backstories?
No. I because strong backstories are still important tools we should use to build believable characters. So, how can we do this in short fiction?
Instead of telling the entire story of a character’s life, prioritize a single event that has defined their personality. Root your character’s thoughts and actions on that single defining moment. And leave little revealing breadcrumbs in form of a sentence or two throughout the story, so that your readers can catch a glimpse of the past without being utterly bored by it.
- Don’t be afraid to be weird
Neil Gaiman taught me about value of embracing weirdness.
People read short stories to experience the world through a different lenses. We writers write short stories so we can see our own experiences through different angles. People are not expecting familiar things when they pick up a book or a short story. They expect something surprising, refreshing and extraordinary.
So don’t be afraid to use something weird to grab the reader’s attention.
But most writers get discouraged because they can’t find that weirdness within them in their first draft. I learned that often the weirdness shows up unexpectedly during the editing process. It comes to you when you are commuting or taking a shower or sipping your after lunch coffee.
Mastering weird only happens when you walk the streets with curious eyes. When your senses remain open to the unbelievable and the unexpected. So don’t give up.
- Magic happens in your fourth draft (or fifth…)
If you’re a discovery writer (or pantser) your first draft will help you get to know your protagonist and their struggles. You might not love or truly understand your protagonist in your first draft. But you will grow to love him on your second, third or fourth draft.
The most essential thing about editing is time.
Give yourself the time to gain some emotional distance from your story. It is important to give yourself as much time as you need.
As good rule, I usually know I’m ready to edit when I read my draft and I am no longer in love with my own words.
Sometimes this process of “digestion” can take up a few weeks or months. I definitely try not to rush things.
After that period and after the first round of editions, I’m finally ready to send my second draft to people whose taste and opinions I really trust.
I strongly encourage you to the same. Their insights can help you identify the parts of the story that still need some polishing. Their insights may also help you when you’re feeling stuck with your writing. But never forget there’s no such thing as a perfect first draft and honestly, there’s also no such thing as a perfect final draft.
At some point you need to accept the beautiful imperfections of your work and move forward. Publish them in any form you seem fit and just move on with your life.
Keep putting a little bit of yourself in each story you write. It will not make you rich and famous, but if you’re a writer, you’ll feel at peace with yourself. And that is more than enough!
Why I’m choosing to publish my short stories on my blog
There are countless options to publish a short story these days. Publishing on a blog may seem like a silly choice.
We now have Kindle direct publishing, Wattpad and Medium. So why even bother to put the stories on this blog?
Wattpad and Medium are social media consumed by other authors. The problem with them is that they often seem to encourage immediate gratification and to glorify statistics and make you think too much about you competition.
I don’t want to compete with anyone. Writing fiction shouldn’t be about the statistics, nor the competition.
I’m also not going with Kindle Direct Publishing for a very simple reason: I want to improve my writing and the fastest way to do that is to make it freely available and encourage people to point out the things that need improving.
This blog is my platform and mine alone. It does not have to compete for attention, it does not have to get likes to keep afloat. Unlike all other social media platforms, including Wattpad.
Writing is my passion. Which means that I don’t mind going through life without a hint of recognition and fame. I write because I have stories in me that need to be told. And I share those stories in the hopes they may touch people, entertain them or make them realize something about themselves they didn’t know before.
I share my stories publicly because I want to become a better storyteller and to crush my fear of exposing my writing.
Eventually, I will send some of my stories to literary magazines and even prepare a short story collection for self-publication. But for now, I just want to share some of my stories freely with the amazing people that have nothing but kind words, courage, genuine struggles, and brilliant insights to share with me.
I write my stories for those people who are quickly becoming my dear, dear friends. Not to gain recognition or build an sterile audience or gather empty and viral social proof.
Cover and title reveal!!!
That being said I only have one more topic to share with you in this article. And that’s the cover and title reveal for my upcoming Halloween-themed short story!
Feel free to steal this cover and share it with your friends on social media! You would make this writer stupidly happy by doing so!
Featured image credits: Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash | Cover image credits: Elliot Pannaman on Unsplash