Seven Reasons to Write a Short Story

by Stacy Woodson
published in Writing

Some writers love the short story format while other writers hate the creative confines of a restricted word count. However, short stories have value that go beyond entertainment. Here are seven reasons why you should try writing one:

1) Flesh out a new character or story idea

Writing a short story is a great way to develop new characters and new story ideas for novels. In the article, “Strategic Use of Short Fiction,” Kristine Kathryn Rusch tells Writer’s Digest she uses short stories to help create and enhance her full-length fiction. “I explore the worlds of my novels,” she says. “If I introduce a major new character, I write a short story to figure out who that character is.”

Sometimes short stories evolve from an idea into a novel too. In an interview with the New Yorker May 13, 1950, Ernest Hemingway talks about how his book “Across the River and into the Trees” began as a short story. “Then I couldn’t stop it. It went straight on into a novel,” he said. “That’s the way all my novels got started.”

2) Hone your craft

You become a better editor when you write a short story. In the article, “How Writing Short Stories Can Help You Become a Better Novelist,” NY Book Editors write, “The beauty of a short story is how it forces you to create a moving and engaging narrative within in a tight space. Simply by virtue of writing short stories, you’ll train yourself to avoid extraneous content that doesn’t push the story forward.”

Writing a short story is a great way to try a new plot device without the commitment of a full-length novel. An example of a plot device is a MacGuffin—a character pursues an object. Indiana Jones pursues a MacGuffin (the ark) in the movie, Raider’s of the Lost Ark.  More on plot devices in a future article.

3) Gain visibility

Writing a short story for an anthology is a great way for writers to get exposure. “A successful short story career can also work wonders to spread your name and open other doors of opportunity for you. And it can serve as a gateway to your novels,” Alan Baxter says in his article 10 Tips for Writing Short Stories that Sell.

As an example, Malice Domestic, a mystery fan convention held annually in Washington DC, sponsors a short story anthology. If selected, new writers may have their stories featured in a collection with seasoned mystery authors. There is even a signing party at the convention. You can read more about Malice Domestic in one earlier DIYMFA pieces here.

Short stories, published by approved publishing houses, are also eligible for Mystery and Thriller Awards each year. Often members of these communities will read nominated stories and vote on the winners. A nomination is great for visibility for any writer.

4) Clear your head before revisions

Writing a short story is a great way to disconnect from a work in progress and return with a fresh perspective. At SleuthFest in 2016, PJ Parrish, (writing sisters Kristy Montee and Kelly Nichols), talked about first drafts. “Let it bake in your computer for as long as you can stand it, at least 3 weeks. Then print it, and read it cold. The weak spots will jump out. If you let the manuscript ferment you will be able to sniff out all the cheese. And there will be a lot of cheese.”

5) Marketing tools

Free short stories are a great incentive to get readers to subscribe to newsletters and keep them engaged with series characters until the next book release. New York Times best selling author, Eloisa James, uses short stories as part of her web exclusive bonus content for her readers.

6) Resume builders

A published short story adds a level of professionalism to resumes and query letters for new writers. In Ann R. Allen’s article in Writer’s Digest, “9 Ways Writing Short Stories Can Pay Off for Writers,” she says, “If you’re on a career track, you need to show agents, publisher and reviewers you’re serious. Placing stories in respected literary journals will do that.”

7) Opportunities beyond publishing

The film industry wants short stories. Short stories focus on a single act or plot line, and are easier to adapt than novels. Some great pictures, like Rear Window and Shawshank Redemption, are short stories that were adapted to film. The blog, ScreenCraft, discusses this concept in greater detail and hosts a cinematic short story contest. The winner receives $1000 cash award, an introduction to Hollywood literary agents and managers, and a mentor. Deadline is December 16th.

Have you written a short story? If you haven’t, with so many great reasons, why not?

Stacy Woodson is a U.S. Army Special Operations veteran and a self-declared fitness junkie. She loves a good conspiracy story and has penned one of her own. She believes in the power of a good writing community and how it can elevate your writing. She is a contributor to DIY MFA’s 5onFri and a Claymore finalist. She’s represented by John Talbot at the Talbot Fortune Agency.

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