Why Novelists Should Write Short Fiction

I am offline this week, so I won’t be around to answer questions today. My wonderful and talented colleagues have agreed to pitch in and respond to your comments on my behalf. If you have a question specifically for me, go ahead and ask. I’ll get back to you when I’m back online. Otherwise, you’re in capable hands. Thanks.

Alarm clock with bell alarms ticking down to midnightCiao, SEers. I’ve written a lot of posts designed to save writers time, such as apps for social media sharing and scheduling drip campaigns. I’m going to ask you now to trust me—devoting some of your designated novel-writing time to writing short fiction will actually help you with your novel.

Before you scoff, let me tell you why.

Craft Development

If you’re writing a novel, you’ve got anywhere from fifty thousand to one hundred thousand words to tell your story. (Epic fantasy writers get even more.) I’m not suggesting that wasted words are acceptable in long fiction, but longer works are a bit more forgiving.

If you write a short story, you don’t have the space to waste anything. Every word has to count to advance plot or develop character. Because the form is so stripped down, you’ve got to nail it. Plot holes will be immediately noticeable; you won’t have chapters to write yourself out of a corner. Poorly-developed characters can’t be saved by a lengthy arc; you need to establish who they are immediately and not waver from their logical progression.

My personal experience:
I write long. I like to read lengthy stories/novels, and so it should be no surprise that I also write that way. But working on the short form has really taught me not to waste words, not to veer too far from my outline, and not to let the story get sluggish in the middle. If you find your novels are sagging and unclear at the halfway point, consider working on shorts for a while. If you master that form, those skills will transfer to your novels, resulting in tighter and faster novel writing.

Daily Shorts on Your Blog

If you follow my blog, you know that (when I’m not swamped with other writing and editing projects—go ahead and laugh here) I use the WordPress Daily Prompts to write short stories and publish them on my site. WP offers them seven days a week, so you don’t need to try to hit a certain day, nor do you have to participate regularly. For that matter, you don’t need to use the WP prompt, or any other site’s prompt—you can just write a short and post it.

The reason I suggest blogging a short work is that it’s a fabulous way to get your creative juices flowing in the morning. You don’t need to write three thousand words. There are prompts that ask for six-word stories. It really can be that short. A friend of mine does fifteen-word stories. Another does ninety-nine-word selections. I don’t usually limit myself. I just let the words flow.

Overpolishing isn’t necessary on these. It’s just a nice way to introduce readers to your style while also getting your mind going. Then, when you turn your attention back to your WIP, you’re already in beast-writing-mode, but you haven’t wasted time slogging through the slow-going process of getting back into your novel. All your synapses are firing fast, and you’ll get started faster and write more efficiently.

My personal experience:
My blog traffic increased and I was able to dive into my WIPs much faster and easier after a quick morning short story writing session. Best of all, I met new friends online who have become not only regular viewers, but some have also become collaborators in other projects—like anthologies.

Writing Short Stories for Anthologies and Collections

Another way the short form can be beneficial is through compilations. If you write for an anthology (an assembly of short stories written by multiple authors), you’ll find your work reaching new audiences—the readers and fans of all the contributors. If you write a collection of your own work for publication, you can choose to use a central theme to attract fans of that genre or you can offer a variety of your styles and hope there’s something in there for any reader, regardless of their preferences.

Either way, multi-author anthology or single-author collection, you have the opportunity to reach new readers—particularly given these works are often permafree or 99¢ offerings. That makes them unquestionably affordable for anyone. New-to-you readers are far more likely to give you a chance if you aren’t out of their price range.

And a nice bonus with anthologies? Often the authors will host each other on their sites and develop relationships with each other. These connections are invaluable for future marketing efforts of all your works—even your novels.

My personal experience:
I’ve contributed to (I think) seven anthologies now. I’ve forged friendships with many of the authors involved, who have not only garnered me new readers because we were both featured in the same work, they’ve continued to help me through interviews and book release notices on their sites. You can’t beat that kind of support, nor can you put a value on those endorsements.

So, yes, anytime you write a short, you’re taking time away from your novel. But unless you’re under a tight deadline, can you really afford not to write some shorts? Especially considering they:

  • help you hone your craft,
  • jumpstart your creativity, and
  • garner you new readers.

If you aren’t a short story writer, I hope you’ll consider trying it. I fervently believe doing so is tremendously helpful for both technique-development and wider exposure.

If you are a short story writer, maybe you’d like to share some of your experiences with the rest of us. We’d all appreciate it. The comment box is below. You know what to do…

Staci Troilo

53 thoughts on “Why Novelists Should Write Short Fiction

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  2. I just wanted to take a second to thank my colleagues for filling in for me last week. And to thank all of you for continuing the conversation. I’m slowly recovering and will be spending more and more time online every day until I’m fully healed. Given how full my mailboxes are, I know I’ll never catch up, so I’ll probably just start anew moving forward. But I did want to extend my appreciation to you all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, I didn’t realize WP offered daily writing prompts–I’ll have to check those out.

    My first publishing credits were short stories, but I haven’t written any of those for many years. I like the idea of “warming up” before hitting the WIP, and there’s nothing quite like having a folder of stories ready for newsletters or anthologies or just fun. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Updates, Links, and More | Joan Hall

  5. This is great advice. I have written five novels but enjoy writing short ‘flash fiction’ stories. After a while off from writing short stuff (inc. blog posts), this week I started posting a series of ‘under 100 words’ stories. I’ve made it an A to Z project, choosing a word starting with the letter of the day, then including it in the story. I’m posting one each day, and invite visitors to post their own story for that ‘word’ in the comments. It started with ‘A is for… Architecture!’ here https://tessmgarfield.wordpress.com/2017/10/02/flash-fiction-a-z-a-is-for/ I find I’m writing 120 to 150 words, then tightening, getting rid of unnecessary words to bring it under 100, a process that will definitely make me better at editing my future novels by identifying the sort of words/phrases I’m chopping out.

    Liked by 4 people

      • I’m finding the 100 word challenge great for identifying fluffy filler words. I should probably make a note of what I’m editing out because it would help me build a checklist for when I’m redrafting novels in future (I have two in progress).

        Liked by 2 people

    • Tess, I checked out your micro fics and left you some comments, What a great idea in doing an A-Z challenge,
      You’ve really kept your writing tight and I love the creative fun behind what you’re doing.Thanks for visiting and sharing!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks, Mae. Your comments are encouraging, so thank you for commenting and following. I’ve got up to L in my drafts, and I’m starting to try some strange angles/POVs… hopefully ‘I is for Ice-cream’ will be worth waiting for, but no spoilers!!

        Liked by 2 people

    • Tess, you are an inspiration. I want to steal, er, borrow the ABC idea. (If only I had the time to do so!)

      I love that your writing is improving and that you’re learning ways to improve your longer work. That’s what it’s all about. Kudos to you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Staci. You are more than welcome to use the ABC, especially because I think I just adapted it from elsewhere. The next one I’m preparing for is an A-Z of emotions in six words.

        Time seems to be our biggest enemy, but I’m hoping the benefit of doing it is worth it 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow. Six words is hard.

        I participated in a publishing contest for four-line westerns and I thought that was difficult. I can’t imagine cutting my word count down so low! (Then again, I am chatty and long-winded.)

        I may try the ABC-thing soon, once I get caught up with all the work I’ve missed/am behind on. (And now I’m laughing so hard, my staples and stitches are pulling. Ow!) I really could use a time machine. Or something that simply slows time around me while I work at warp speed. I’m not picky. 😉


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  7. I’ve been so immersed in a WIP deadline, I haven’t had a chance to play around with the WP Daily Writing Prompts, but I really want to give that a try now. A friend of mine used to post photos on her blog and invite others to write microfics in the comments. That was always so much fun.

    I done two anthologies now and have written two novellas, and I do think writing short helps to tighten on work. Although lengthy books (as both a writer and a reader) will always hold the #1 spot in my heart, I’ve really become a fan of shorter works too.

    Great post today, Staci. We’ll catch you next week 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I never used to be a short story writer and kicked off from the start with a big novel … talk about jumping in the deep end, lols. Only in more recent years have I delved into short stories and poetry, and I’ve found it to be tremendously helpful. I haven’t tried the WP writing prompts as yet, but that sounds like a suggestion I should take up. It would get me back on my blog too, lols. All the best, Staci! 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    • Harmony, I was like you. I first delved into writing a full-length novel, although I did write a few short stories and some flash fiction pieces before it was published. I enjoy contributing to the anthologies and have tried the writing prompts a few times. Hope to get back to doing that soon. Like Staci said, it did increase my blog traffic.

      Liked by 4 people

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