At the moment, I’m working on a short story that I want to submit to a literary magazine. Short stories are not my forte but over the last year, I’ve been practicing by writing a few. Almost all of them have gone unfinished. I’ve only written a few flash fictions (both on this blog and outside of it) and short stories that I like. However, the more I practice the more I feel confident about writing them. I feel like short stories are kind of neglected and overlooked. The novel seems to be looked at as the ultimate goal for the writer. It makes me wonder though–which form do you find more difficult to write? Short stories or novels? Which do you prefer and why?
I decided to focus more on short stories after watching an interview on YouTube with Stephen King called “Stephen King on the Craft of Short Story Writing.” It’s a really quick but informative interview and I recommend checking it out if you’re interested. He said that a lot of young writers start out with writing a novel rather than building up to it with short stories. I fall into this category as I’ve always preferred to write longer stories over shorter ones and I think the reason is that I feel like long stories are easier.
There’s a few reasons why I feel this way:
- Novellas and novels have arbitrary word counts. Your story can be as short or long as you want it to be, whether it’s only 50, 000 words or 100, 000 words. There’s more room to elaborate. Flash fiction and short stories have pretty strict word counts. Short story word counts are usually under 7,500 words and flash fiction is usually about 300- 1,000 words.
- Short stories are a snippet of a long story. Stephen King mentions in the interview that novels sometimes arise out of short stories. You have to know your character on a deep level to write a good short story. You have to know their past, their likes/dislikes, their personality, their behavioural patterns, etc. It seems much harder to do this in a short story than a novel because you have to pick and choose which elements of your character are most important to get across in the short story. I like to think of it as a condensed version of a novel.
- The short story form has to be concise yet get across the point in an interesting way. In a short story, you have to be able to really engage the audience and keep them interested with the short amount of time that you have available. In a long story, you have to engage the reader from the beginning but even if you don’t, you still have the chance to redeem yourself in other parts of a book. If a book doesn’t engage me from the very start, I’ll still usually give it a chance if it speeds up or gets better.
In my view, short story writing is very much a craft and a skill that differs from novel writing.
This is one area of writing that I want to master. It may even become a goal for me in 2016.
What has been your experience with the short story form?