Short stories or novels? Which are best to write? Which are best and/or easiest for beginning writers? I've thought about these questions ever since I took my first writing class way back in Mission Viejo, California. As a new writer, I was drawn to the immediacy (and abbreviated length) of short stories, but our class instructor had different ideas. She believed one-hundred-percent that new fiction writers should begin their careers with novels. Her advice worked well for me--I wrote two novels right off the bat and learned so much about writing I then went on to teach writing classes of my own.
Since then I've experimented with many kinds of writing: screenplays, poetry, nonfiction, and even short stories which I rarely, if ever, thought about submitting for publication. To me short stories were exercises in freewriting, practice pieces for fun and entertainment. However, that all changed this past July when I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo and decided to write a sequence of short stories in lieu of a novel. It was time well spent, allowing me to both create a body of work while also discovering some important reasons why some people (including me) might like to consider short story writing as a serious publishing path. For instance:
- Regardless of your initial enthusiasm for writing a novel, there eventually comes a day when the writing feels like more of a chore than a joy. One of the most difficult challenges for any writer is to muster the courage, strength, and willpower to stick with a book-length manuscript. Short stories are an excellent pick-me-up to provide some diversion and a fresh approach during the dark nights of novel-writing.
- Writing a novel is a long-term relationship. Short stories are more like speed dating: Meet, write, move on! At best you might meet the story of a lifetime. And if you don't, well, it's all good life-experience.
- With short stories, your time frame and cast of characters is much smaller than that of a novel, making everything much easier to keep track of. If your story starts out with a 36-year-old archaeologist working on a Saturday morning, chances are even if she quits her job she'll still be the same age when your story ends in the afternoon.
- How often have you heard not to start your novel with too much information or back story? But with a short story, the back story IS the story! Tip: That juicy stuff you have to leave out of your novel? Turn it into short stories, the more the merrier.
- For creative types who love starting projects but have trouble with completion, writing a short story a day or a week provides an endless wealth of new beginnings. Every writing session allows for a fresh start, a clean slate, and a chance to explore and experiment with voice, style, and subject matter.
- Best of all, finishing a short story provides a wonderful sense of achievement and accomplishment. You did it!
- And if by some terrible chance you don't like what you're writing or have written: End it. Toss it. Write the next one!
- You can write short fiction on the go. Wherever you are: at work, on vacation, waiting in the car or for an appointment, you can write and finish a short story. And they're easier than ever to submit and publish thanks to the Internet.
Tip of the Day: In many ways short stories are the equivalent of poetry: succinct, metaphoric, and intended to leave a powerful impression. The best way to understand what goes into them is to read as many as you can. Your local library will have numerous anthologies categorized by individual author as well as genre. I've always been a big fan of the Ellen Datlow editions of horror stories--just right for Halloween!