author, creative writing, writing

What Short Stories Can Teach You About Novel Writing

This year for uni I’ve been writing a lot of short stories. It’s been a bit of a shock to the system, and is something I still need to practice to get right. Ever since I was young I’ve always written long stories, enjoying building the world or setting up character arcs. I’ve been in awe of those who write short stories, and love reading them. But they’ve never really been for me, writing wise.

Now that I’ve had to push my comfort zone and work on short stories I’m learning a lot, including some things I will take with me into my novel writing. Today, I’m sharing what writing short stories can teach you about writing a novel.

Sometimes, less is more
Nothing teaches you more about keeping unnecessary words to a minimum than writing a short story, particularly one with a set upper word limit. You’ll learn to get your point across using less words, which gives the words you choose more impact. Although novels are expected to be of a certain length, the rule applies. Readers don’t want endless rambling, or words stuffed into sentences for the sake of it.

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”   -Thomas Jefferson

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The importance of a moment
I asked on twitter for advice on short story writing, and so many lovely writers came back to me advising to focus on one particular moment. Essentially, you’re considering the bigger picture and then honing down to create a story from one event. It helped tremendously, and got me thinking about the importance of moments. Some aspects of a story are so big they become a story all of their own. And while in novel writing you’re free to explore the before and after of such moments, it proves you should spend significant time on the big plot details to really make them pop. Writing short stories is a perfect way to get used to doing this.
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Honing the art of plotting
Not everyone likes plotting, and not everybody needs to. But most writers will start with at least a vague outline. Writing a short story really tightens up your plotting skills, because you’re forced to reveal the story in such a short space of time. In short stories, plotting is really important to ensuring you spend the right amount of time on each section/paragraph/plot point because you don’t have long to get it all out. And if you’re a plotter when it comes to novel writing too, then this is a great way to hone that skill.
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Starting with a bang
Short stories don’t leave you with enough time to set the scene, or build a picture. You have to start with a bang, so that the story is in full swing from the off. And to be honest, the same should apply to novel writing too. Readers, agents, publishers – they’re all looking for a story that hooks them in from the very first paragraph, so the action needs to start at once. In a novel, you can build the backstories and introduce the world as you progress, but short stories teach you to dive into the action headfirst.
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The chance to practice
If you’re working on a novel, writing short stories can be a great method of practice. We all improve the more we write, and spending some time with different characters, in a different world, with a different story can really shape your craft. It’s also a great way to treat writer’s block, because although you’re not pushing on with your main project, you’re still writing in the mean time. And chances are, the act of writing will pull you out of your slump and throw you back into your work in progress in no time.
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Do you ever write short stories? Has it helped you with novel writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so do comment below.

Until then,
Keep writing,
M
x

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42 thoughts on “What Short Stories Can Teach You About Novel Writing”

  1. Great post. I’ve been in the throws of flash fiction writing for a while now, as my novel gets edited, and I love the challenge. I can’t imagine writing a horror novel, but flash fiction gives me the chance to work on one of my favorite genres.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. While I did not get to really want short stories yet, I was considering writing fanfiction shorts at first. Even my current project has some bits of backstory that might work in the short story form but I can’t guess if/when I’d get to them.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sounds like I’m in the same boat! I’m a creative writing student and looooove writing fiction, so it’s short stories with a few adventures into poetry for me. I tend to leave my short story work until the last minute and then get frustrated when I don’t have the time to turn the story into a full novel, but short stories are such a valuable exercise in being concise while maintaining a sense of excitement and interest. PACING is so tough for me in all my fiction so I’m grateful to be writing so much short fiction 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Love these lessons, Meelie. Like you, I’ve never been one for writing short stories, so I didn’t know what they could teach you about writing a longer novel. Thanks for sharing your insights. Maybe one day you’ll share the short stories you’ve been writing too? 😊.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Rarely do I write short stories; however, I did write one awhile back for a writing contest. Although I did submit it, I’m not sure how I feel about the story. But it’s okay, because I know I still need to practice. Thanks for this post. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Less is almost always more. Short stories are such a great training method, because the key aspects of good prose–sentence, grammar, word choice, efficiency and concision–are all more central to a good short story, and skills many of today’s authors are in dire need of. I think it it much easier to go from short form to long, rather than the other way around.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. You’ve made some excellent points.
    It helps to start by orientating around the main character, don’t bog the story down with memories, back story or flashbacks. Finally, end with a satisfying conclusion, one that doesn’t taper off, but equally one that doesn’t feel to final or unbelievable.
    The more I practice ,the more fun they are to write.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Thanks for this post. I’ve been wondering if I should look more into short stories and try them out and this blog definitely convinced me. I think it will help with the novel I’m working on. I haven’t dabbled in short stories since undergrad so I look forward to revisiting it.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. It’s all about discipline. I find short stores the ultimate challenge. The writer is tackling one particular moment and if the goal is to entertain it does take a lot of work and planning.

    I haven’t written short stories in a while but when I did it was good practice.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Loved this! Trying out short stories has really helped polish up my novel writing in a big way; it doesn’t bog the story down with over-descriptive scene-setting, it immerses the reader in a living breathing world and making your descriptions concise yet vivid. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I’ve been writing short stories for a few anthologies and agree with every word you say. One of them with a theme of strong female characters has had amazing feedback and inspired my next series of Fantasy novels, featuring a female Alchemist and her companion, a miniature dragon! Hopefully I’ll have the first book in progress soon. Just have to finish up a couple of things first.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I have a lot of problems writing short stories anymore. But the rules aren’t forgotten. The old adage about using one word instead of two is something I’ve had to learn. I’ve had to learn wy I have almost every word in a sentence, every sentence in a paragraph, and for the matter, why I have certain chapters.

    I’m editing up dead friends now, and with the exception of a single piece in a chapter, I’m wondering why I even have the chapter. I’ve a feeling most of it might end up red penciled out.

    Liked by 2 people

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