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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you ever write short stories? Has it helped you with novel writing? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so do comment below.