Friday, October 16, 2015

6 Reasons You Should Be Writing Short Stories....And 5 Tips to Help You Get Started


I recently had a story idea come to me. A really, really good story idea. The kind that consumes a writer’s mind and begs to be written.

At first I thought it was just a plot bunny and ignored it, but it spiraled into a complete storyline with developed characters and an interesting world. I didn’t want to ditch my current book to write this story, but I was also plagued by the realization that this story was something extremely special. Something that needed to be written and shared. But I’m not good at multi-tasking, so writing two full-length novels at the same time just didn’t seem like a good idea. Besides, it wasn’t quite novel material.

But man was it a good idea. I knew that it needed to be written down and published, but not as a novel. As a short story.

So I sat down and wrote it out. 15 pages right from my soul, titled Skies of Dripping Gold and worthy of being my debut story. I haven’t been this excited about my own writing for a long time. I’m pretty sure this is one of the best pieces I have ever written.

I’ve been in the editing and querying stage for my first book for about a year, so actually getting to write something from scratch (that’s not related to a synopsis or marketing plan) was a breath of fresh air. After I finished writing this story, I thought something that regularly occurs to me, "What, are you stupid?" And then, "Why haven't you done this before? You should take breaks like this more often."

What about you? Do you ever take a break from your larger writing projects to type out a short story? Here’s why you should:
1. It allows you to follow some of your better plot bunnies. As a rule, following plot bunnies is an evil practice, since most of them don’t pan out. However, occasionally you’ll come across an amazing idea that you simply can’t shake. It’s something you feel in your heart that you’re supposed to write. Short stories allow you to follow this feeling without abandoning your main project. It also alleviates the occasional depression that may or may not hit you when you realize that most of your amazing ideas will stay locked up inside you forever. Basically, short stories keep you sane. As we all know, madness is like gravity; all you need is a little push. Short stories keep you from getting knocked completely over the cliffs of insanity.

2. It lets you experiment with different writing styles. If you write mostly dark fiction, short stories can let you test out your humorous writing style so that you can see if that’s something you’re interested in pursuing later on. Of, if you write all of your books in 1st person, you can experiment with 3rd (or even 2nd) person in short stories.

3. It just makes you a better writer. Short stories are hard. Like, "one does not simply walk into Mordor" hard. I think part of this is because, unlike novels, short stories are short. Stop looking at me like I'm Captain Obvious and let me finish. Because they are so short, all of you weaknesses are magnified. While this is extremely annoying, it helps you pinpoint exactly what you have problems with when it comes to writing style or idea development. It also forces you to find a way to fix these problems, which not only results in a good short story, but will also help you later on in future projects.

4. You get to write those amazing characters that didn’t quite fit into your books. You know those characters that just didn’t work in your book, but were so great that you felt sad to leave them out? Well, short stories let you bring those characters to life. I’ve always wanted to try writing a character with a mild intellectual disability. He didn’t fit in my books, but he fit into my Skies of Dripping Gold story and he’s amazing. I’m allowed to fangirl over my own characters, right? Or is that weird? But I guess I’m already weird, so one more instance shouldn’t make a huge difference. Anyway, I’m stoked that short stories gave me the opportunity to bring him into existence. Think about characters you haven't been able to fit into your books. Could you write a short story about him/her? It's an exciting thought, isn't it?

5. They can help you get your name out there. If you decide to publish your short story (or short stories), you get to give your audience a taste of what you’re capable of. There are several different routes: You can try and publish in a magazine, team up with other authors and create an anthology, team up with yourself and create an anthology, or just indie publish a single short story. I’m planning on indie publishing Skies of Dripping Gold sometime this year (more information coming on that soon). It's exciting because it gives me the opportunity to give people a sample of my fiction writing style, gain some new followers, and show traditional publishers that I really am serious about this whole writing thing. Pretty cool, right?

6. It lets you take a break from your usual writing routine. Let’s face it: writing a book is difficult and sometimes annoying. It takes a long time and a lot of editing. If you ever need to step back and take a break to gain a new perspective, then push your book to the side for a few weeks and write a short story. You’re still getting to use your creativity and it will allow you to come back to your major writing project with more energy and enthusiasm.

Now while writing short stories has a lot of upside, you can run into a lot of problems, too. Just because they have the word “short” in them does not mean they are quick and easy pieces of writing. Short story writing is a completely different beast compared to writing a novel (or even flash fiction), so here are some quick tips:

1. Less is more. Be concise. "Precision of language, please!"Only include the necessary elements. Remember that your readers are not stupid: You don’t have to spell everything out for them. 
2. It needs a core message or mood. To make a short story good, there needs to be at least one core message, mood, or idea that you work up to. I think Edgar Allen Poe explained this concept well: “A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” 
3. Recurring ideas are key. One common element I’ve noticed in all good short stories is that they each have a recurring thought, idea, theme, piece of dialogue, etc. It can be as simple as the way you describe the rain pattering on the roof. It can be a common phrase a character uses that means one thing in the beginning and morphs to mean something entirely different by the end. A common string strategically placed throughout the story can give it extra power. 
4. Pathos is King. Want to draw a reader in quickly and effectively? I have one word for you: pathos. Play your readers emotions, make them identify with the situation or feel for your characters within the first few pages. If you can do that, then you're doing it right. 
5. Read. Go and read some good short stories. I’m personally a fan of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (If you haven’t read this, then you are seriously missing out). However, there are hundreds of great ones out there, all of them different, but many with common ground that can help you pinpoint exactly what makes a good story. What are some of your favorite shorts?

Do you think short story writing is a good idea? What are some tips you have to share when it comes to writing shorts? I’d love to hear from you!

Also, on a more personal note, I am planning on self-publishing Skies of Dripping Gold (the short story that triggered the idea for this post) on Amazon within the next month or two. It will be my debut story. Pretty epic, right? I’ll be posting the release date, synopsis, and more cool information soon, but I’d love get some input from you guys: Have you ever indie published on Amazon? What tips do you have for me? Also, which title do you like better: Skies of Dripping Gold or Skies that Drip Gold? I can't decide. Pour forth your writerly wisdom in the comment section below! 

Related articles: 
6 Easy Ways to Gain Writing Inspiration
What To Do When Your Story Bogs Down
How to Know When to Stop Editing Your Novel


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31 comments:

  1. Great post - I am an avid short story writer. Realized recentaly that I have enough to compile into a book then made them into two. Great fun and nice change of pace from all the research I am doing on my WIP nonfiction.

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    1. How cool! Creating an anthology like that is something I'm determined to get around to one of these days. =) Thanks for the comment! Best of luck on you WIP!

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  2. Such a great post! I didn't used to write short stories because I wanted to only publish novels, but short stories are a lovely little challenge. I totally agree with following the plot bunnies (I have 3-5 running around right now. Help!). And experimentation is also fun and can stretch your mind. It's also fun to shift genres or try writing creative nonfiction. It's not as boring as it sounds.

    I also really liked point 5. I was reading along and saw: "team up with other authors and create an anthology." I thought, "That would be fun." Then I saw "team up with yourself and create an anthology." Yes. Wonderful. I laughed at this one, but it's not a bad idea. I really like the Sherlock Holmes short stories because you can read them in bits and chunks, and they continue on the story. Why can't we get more series including short stories? There's no rule that says every series has to be made up of novels.

    As for your question concerning your story title, I prefer "Skies of Dripping Gold." 1) It rolls off the tongue better. 2) It's more aesthetically pleasing. 3) I'm partial to gerunds.

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    1. YES! I wish people still wrote book/short stories in little serial installments in magazines. That's how many of the classic authors got published and I think it would be fun to read a story like that. Maybe we can try and bring that back. =)
      1 vote for "Skies of Dripping Gold." I'm also a fan of gerunds. =) Thanks Azelyn!

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  3. I really great post that has firmly shoulder nudged me to take a fresh look at all the short story ideas I have been jotting down in the last year. An anthology with pals is also a great idea.
    With regards to the title, do you need an "of" or a "that" at all? Might the three other words alone arouse more mystery? Just a thought.
    Now, where is my copy of The Yellow Wallpaper. I so want to reread that now. Thank you, from a fellow "Double H".

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    1. Glad to hear it, Han! If you ever end up writing and posting those stories anywhere, let me know. I'd love to check them out. =)
      Hmmm. That's an interesting idea. I would have never thought of it. Thanks!
      And, from one Double H to another, I appreciate the comment. =)

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  4. Excellent post! I agree with you on all points. Short story writing is a great way to stretch our writing muscles and try new things, and get noticed, and be serious, and . . . well, you said it all. :) Please let me know how/when I can help with your debut short story. I've heard my linky might not be working right for blogger, so please e-mail me at tyreantigger@gmail.com if you have any links/pics you would like me to post. Also, if you would like to do a guest post, let me know.

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    1. Wow! Thanks you so much, Tyrean! I'm still putting together a marketing/release plan, but I will definitely get in touch with you soon. I really appreciate the sweet offer. I'm excited to see where this heads and I'm proud to have one of my favorite indie authors standing next to me. =)

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  5. Oh, I love writing short stories! Until this spring, when I branched into poetry, and this summer, when I finally completed a first draft of a novelette, that was all I ever wrote. In fact, I'm getting published with a short story! (E-Magazine for my state's homeschool group, I won their short story contest this spring. Now if only they would actually get the magazine finished... Mildly frustrated, but oh well.) When I was about 13 I won a online short story contest on my uncle's website - Fifteen Minutes of Fiction. (Link to my piece if anyone's interested: http://www.fifteenminutesoffiction.com/gallery.asp?gid=4243) My little brothers love my short stories, so I'm writing one for them for Christmas. I write best from a prompt, so I asked each of them for a person, place, and a thing for the story. We'll see what it ends out being!!

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    1. Woot woot! Go Annie! Hopefully they can get that magazine put together quickly. That must be exciting. Good for you!
      Writing short stories as a present is such a sweet idea! I like that they each get a say in what direction their story will take, too. What a fun thing to do. I'm sure you'll come up with something epic.

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  6. How exciting, Hannah! Skies of Dripping Gold sounds awesome :) You make some valid points here, and I admire your enthusiasm and skill. I can't really do short stories :\ Tried, but no go. Best of luck with this - I've got a feeling it's going to be epic!

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    1. Thank you! I'll be excited to hear what you think of it. =)

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  7. Dripping better than Drip (too choppy)
    Thanks for the tips!
    I've been working on the final edits of my first book (Farming Lavender - Secrets From a Hard Row Hoed in Western Montana) for the last year (arduous work.) I recently began digging a root cellar, and taking lots of photos. I'm organizing my thoughts with a brain dump and hope to blog a book out of it. If I hadn't taken the notes to go with the photos in the middle of my book revisions I'd have forgotten all the nuances. Thanks. Best of luck with both pieces!

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    1. That's what I was thinking, too. Thanks for the input! =)
      That is such a cool idea, and very hardcore. Go you! Best of luck with the editing process. It sounds like you are on the right track. =)

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  8. So is there a certain word limit for a short story? How short does it have to be? Also, is a "novella" just another term for a short story?

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    1. Hmm. Good question with a confusing answer:
      Short stories tend to be around 3,500 words, though they can be longer. If they are 8,000 plus words, then they're typically considered a novelette. Novelette's are usually from 8,000 to 18,000 words.
      A "novella," on the other hand, is longer than both a short story and a novelette. It tends to be about 30,000 words long. So, in order of length:
      Short story, then novelette, then novella, then novel. Kind of stupid, but there it is. =D This article explains the basics fairly well, if you're interested: http://hunbbel-meer.hubpages.com/hub/Difference-Between-A-Short-Story-Novelette-Novella-And-A-Novel

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    2. Oh okay. Makes sense somehow. Also, I read "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and found it to be good, though a bit unsettling. :)

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    3. My pleasure! And yes, The Yellow Wallpaper is very unsettling, but somehow in a very brilliant, classy way. I'm a fan of brilliantly unsettling classy stories. =D

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  9. I am not sure; some are writers and good for them. I am, too, a writer, but I don't give a shit if anyone reads what I write - I write to quiet my own thoughts and mind - sorry this might be the wrong discussion group - where is my wine glass?

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    1. Ha! You must have left your wine glass at a different blog, because I can't find it here. =D Best of luck to you!

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  10. Spot on for reasons to write shorts. :) And I'm plunking for Skies of Dripping Gold.

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    1. Thanks! Skies of Dripping Gold it is. =)

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  11. Glad to hear the good news! I look forward to reading your books.

    So, I have only discovered short stories while ghostwriting for someone. I never thought about short stories I thought they were just lazy ways to jot down a bunch of words. That is until I sat down and began to write a short story. It was a bit challenging but I found ways to write dialogue by book not by chapter. Thank God for that! And I've downloaded writing music that helps spill out emotions that readers can relate to. In the same breath I can't write down every new twist when I'm at work...which grinds my gears.

    Lunch break is always taken to shifting through those thoughts of mines until I remember the idea.

    But I won't take up anymore of your time. I love the title you've come up with. Cary J.

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    1. Thanks, Toni! I hope you enjoyed my short story.

      It's fun to hear about your writing adventures. Writers tend to think, "Oh, short story. Cute," not realizing how difficult this mode of writing is. =) It's cool that you use music to help you with your creative process! I do this, too.

      Best of luck with your writing! Thank you for the cool comment!

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  12. Short stories do polish your writing skill as you must be succinct. There are many online magazines (more than print) that publish short stories and flash fiction. Some even pay nicely. It's worth checking out - simply Google "short story writer guidelines" and then follow your genre. Better than contests, you don't have to pay to submit!

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    1. Yes, this is a great way to get published! I have a few stories that I plan to send off to e-magazines. There are a lot of cool ones out there! And flash fiction? What a fun writing style! I didn't realize that magazines are open to publishing these, as well. I'll have to check it out. Thank you!

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  13. I've published several short stories and I agree with your post. They are a fantastic stepping stone to greater things and I wouldn't be where I am without them. They're flawed in their own beautiful way but I love them just the same.

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    1. Great point, Daniel! Short stories come with their own flaws and challenges, but they are very helpful when it comes to publication. Or even to finding your own writing voice.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  14. This is an awesome post! I am just about to graduate college, and I want to get into writing so badly, but fear my lack of experience. This post made me excited to get started, and step out of my comfort zone. I look forward to exploring more of your writing. Thanks for the inspiration!
    Shannon

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    1. Go Shannon! I'm glad this gave you a little boost. Don't ever let fear keep you from writing. You can do it!

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